Social-Emotional Learning and Assessments

“ सामाजिक-भावनात्मक शिक्षा और आकलन (असेसमेंट)” – इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें

What is Social-Emotional Learning and Assessment?

With increasing evidence of the positive impact of implementing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Programmes (CASEL, n.d.) as part of overall student development, schools and organizations are moving in the direction of introducing or strengthening such offerings for their students. However, a question that most continue to grapple with, is how to assess SEL.  

To delve deeper into the subject we explore below the what, why, and how, of assessments in SEL, and examples of how organizations and schools have tried designing and implementing SEL assessments. 

Before we dive into the assessment of SEL let us consider what SEL is, and what assessments intend to do in general in the context of learning.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process of nurturing cognitive, emotional, and behavioral well-being for self and society. This involves creating opportunities to learn and practice-related knowledge, skills, and attitudes and creating compassionate and inclusive ecosystems for learners. (Apni Shala, n.d.). 

According to Education Reforms, in education, the term assessment refers to the wide variety of methods or tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document the academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, or educational needs.

Assessments are an important part of students’ learning and schools. Assessment supports the decisions ahead. It shows the way for the things to be kept in mind while planning for the future of students’ learning journey. Assessments can be the tools that give students their own agency to evaluate their own learnings and reflect upon the opportunities to build on their learning. 

When we think of assessment of any kind of learning it is critical to consider the limitations of these as well. Sanjhee Gianchandani in her articleLet’s re-think assessments” published in Teacher Plus magazine shares how in order to uncover the true potential of assessments, one must reevaluate their design so that they mirror the process of learning more clearly. For instance, conventional test formats are built on task types such as multiple-choice, true/false, matching, and are quite narrow in their focus. They provide only a glimpse of learning. Although such kinds of tests may have certain uses, they are highly undifferentiated and generally incapable of revealing in any comprehensive way what students know and can do. Moreover, the conditions of such tests are often highly monitored. Students work with limited resources and have time constraints. They have limited options for revisions. These kinds of tests are not always true as they are different from how people learn and apply knowledge. Instead of these limitations, many significant decisions such as a student’s final grade or progress, etc are based on such one-time measures. A fair, transparent, and rigorous assessment process could support students and the system to re-look at academics, management, and leadership in a better way.

“One of the ways in which assessments can play a hugely detrimental role is when children are benchmarked against standards that assume a normative pattern of child development. When children grow up in adverse circumstances due to their social marginalization, standard benchmarks cannot be applied, and we must assess them on the improvements they are making and not the benchmarks they are achieving.” (Source:

This becomes critical more so in the assessment of SEL since what we assess may be directly related to the outcomes we envision for the SEL programmes designed. A starting point therefore would be to review the outcomes or purpose of our programmes before we delve into the tools for assessments. (Source:

Types of assessments

Typically, there are two types of assessments namely, Direct Assessment and Indirect Assessment (xSEL Labs, 2018). 

Direct Assessment is also called Show Assessment. In this assessment, children solve challenging problems that have right and wrong answers and in so doing, directly demonstrate their skill level. For example, children might look at pictures of people and indicate what they feel from their facial expressions or body posture. Or they might play a game-like task that assesses their self-control. 

Indirect Assessment is also known as Tell Assessment. In this assessment, the child or her teacher, rates a series of statements on a survey that may reflect social-emotional skills. In self-reported “tell” assessments, children rate their own skill levels. For example, a child might rate, on a scale from one to four, how true a statement like, “I’m good at making friends” is.  Or a teacher might rate the frequency of behaviors reflecting social-emotional skills. For example, a teacher might rate how frequently, on a scale from one to four, a child engages in behaviors like“compromises well.” 

We will now look at how organizations and schools in various settings use direct and indirect assessments for SEL:

Different types of SEL assessment tools are used by organizations. 

Example of Direct Assessment. As mentioned above direct assessments are show assessments where students can directly demonstrate their skill level, such as a facial expression or body posture, etc. 

Edmonton Catholic Schools in Canada follow three ways of assessing students. Observation(classroom dialogue,partner work, small group, whole-class discussion etc), Conversation(classroom dialogue,debate,oral reflection etc) and Product(written work,creating models,posters etc).This kind of assessment tool can be seen in Direct and Indirect Assessments as well. (Source:

Few Examples of Indirect Assessment. Indirect assessments are telling assessments where students report or rate their skill levels by themselves on a rating scale etc.

Apni Shala Foundation: We at Apni Shala do assessments with the intention of tracking how students progress on SEL competencies without benchmarking an expected final outcome.  Pre-COVID we did this by doing an observational assessment where the facilitator carried out the pre-assessment within the first to fourth week of beginning the SEL sessions and carried out a post-assessment at the end of the year for grades  4-7. For grades 8-10, we administer Rosenberg’s self-esteem assessment.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for two years now, we have been conducting a self-reported assessment of students where students themselves mark on a scale of 1 to 5 how often they are able to manifest an SEL competency in their life. For example, students choose one out of “rarely, a few times, sometimes, many times, and most of the time” in response to survey prompts like “I am able to complete the tasks on my own and I ask for help when I don’t understand.” A tool like this allows for an indirect assessment of student learning. 

The Akanksha Foundation: Akanksha conducts its assessment by focusing on the debrief feedback tool which has been developed by the organization. (Source: SEL Urban Organizations 2021)

Dream A Dream:  uses The Life Skills Assessment Scale (DLSAS). The scale assesses 5 core life skills – a) Ability to take initiative b) Ability to interact with one another c) Ability to solve problems d) Ability to manage conflict e) Ability to understand and follow instructions. They conduct this assessment year on year (Dream a dream Life Skills Assessment Scale). (

Fusion Academy is a private middle and high school which takes one-to-one  customise classes for students in the United States. The academy focuses on academics as well as on social-emotional learning it follows the Individual Reassessment of Commitment (IROC) assessment.  The process is one of the primary tools used to track student growth and goal attainment. Students are encouraged to create goals for themselves at the beginning of the year that aligns with their Schoolwide Learner Outcomes (SLOs). Throughout the year, students are supported by their Lead Teacher as they reflect on these goals and demonstrate their progress. (Source:

Muktanagan: Muktangan has developed its own assessment tools for their students. One of the things from which they gather data is from focus group discussions with their alumni.  (Source: SEL Urban Organizations-2021 )

Sneha Foundation’s EHSAS Programme: Sneha Foundation also conducts observational pre-and post-assessments. They use the Gender Equitable Men (GEM) Scale and Connor Davidson Resilience Scale as their assessment tools. (Source: SEL Urban Organizations-2021)

The Teacher Foundation uses assessment tools such as checklists, observation tools, and self-reporting by students around observations of themselves and of the school. The team is now working on creating a robust tool developed from the findings of their research in the creation of the ISELF framework. (Source: Sel Rural Org-2021).

Ugam Education Foundation has its own inbuilt assessment tool. The students fill out worksheets that help assess knowledge and application of the skills around which sessions were facilitated. (Source: Sel Rural Org-2021)

Results and Reporting of Assessments 

Assessments have been happening for decades and it is evolving from time to time. We will now be looking at how organizations analyze data gathered from assessments to report impact. 

Shared below are snapshots of how assessment data is analyzed and reported by Apni Shala and Dream a Dream. 

Apni Shala: This year Apni Shala conducted a self-reported assessment of 225 students from 9 MCGM partner schools. (Some students attended the sessions online and some students attended through asynchronous mode- whats app /messages/calls etc). The assessments have shown that around 71 % of students reported that they saw themselves improve in at least 1 competency of SEL such as self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, social awareness, and responsible decision making. The impact of these assessments is that when these are shared with our partner organizations they capture the impact which has been created by the SEL programme. Further it builds the credibility of the programme and also paves the way for what needs to be considered to enhance the programme design keeping the child(beneficiaries) at the centre.

To read more about the impact of SEL programmes at Apni Shala please click here: Annual reports.

Dream a Dream: Dream a Dream’s Annual Impact report ( demonstrates that 9 out of 10 young people in their programs are showing a positive improvement in Life Skills assessed using the Dream a Dream Life Skill Assessment scale (DLSAS) -year-on-year.

The scale assesses 5 core life skills – a) Ability to take initiative b) Ability to interact with one another c) Ability to solve problems d) Ability to manage conflict e) Ability to understand and follow instructions.

The End Note 

From the literature reviewed, it is evident that an assessment of student social-emotional learning aids schools, teachers, and facilitators to gather data on the impact of such initiatives or programmes on students. But it would be useful to reflect on how, if designed well, these assessments and their reported impact can benefit institutions, schools, teachers, and caregivers to better support student learning at home, in the classroom as well as systemically.  


Shahbaan Shah is a  Programme Facilitator and Research and Development Support at Apni Shala Foundation. In his role, he facilitates social-emotional learning for children, educators, and parents in a variety of settings and supports Research & Development initiatives. He holds a Bachelors’s in Sociology and is an alumnus of the Apni Shala Fellowship.

Amrita with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Mumbai University, and a Masters’ degree in Social Entrepreneurship from TISS, is a part of the founding team of Apni Shala. Before founding Apni Shala, Amrita worked with the Akanksha Foundation and Aasara Home for boys. She has also been trained in personal counseling and rational emotive behaviour therapy. Since 2013, she has been an active facilitator of the Theatre of the oppressed. She was part of the DBS-TISS Social Entrepreneurship Programme from 2013 to 2016 and a WIPRO seeding fellow (2017). In 2016, she attended the New Leader’s Week with the National SEED project and has been facilitating Mumbai-based SEED groups. Amrita has also facilitated a diverse group of educators and leaders with organisations such as Nashik Cambridge School and Ummeed Child Development Center. 


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