Second Step Assessment

How to choose the right assessment tools, based on your goals and priorities

Schoolwide Improvement

Understanding the Options

We’re often asked by schools and districts for advice on how to assess their use of Second Step SEL. Assessment of social-emotional learning (SEL) can be as formal and rigorous as a multi-site, randomized control trial (RCT) or as casual as asking teachers and students for feedback. Most commonly, schools and districts choose to do something between these two.

A good general approach is to pick an assessment tool that can help you gather data points that relate meaningfully to your strategic goals, such as improving school climate or closing achievement gaps.

Where to Start

As with measuring academic competencies, there are many possible metrics and tools to measure social-emotional competencies.1 Finding the right strategy depends on your goals. To plan thoughtfully, start by asking a few guiding questions.

Is assessment a requirement?

Sometimes a grant or official mandate requires assessment. If so, be sure to read the requirements for choosing an assessment tool carefully to make sure you gather and report the requisite information. The assessment tools and guidelines included with Second Step work well for schools that simply want to make sure teachers and students are benefiting from the program and determine if additional support or training is needed.

What specific information are you hoping to learn?

If you primarily want to identify general areas for program improvement, then Second Step tools will likely suffice. If instead you want to gather specific data that can be used to map out individual plans for social-emotional and academic growth, then it may be worth your while to invest in an assessment tool designed to capture very specific metrics.

How much time and money do you plan to allocate to the process?

Investing in assessment might improve accountability and continuous improvement, but keep in mind that the cost of the tool does not necessarily reflect its usefulness. A good general approach to selecting the right tool is to make sure you can gather data points that relate meaningfully to your strategic goals, such as improving school climate or closing achievement gaps.

Assessment Options by Goal

Once you’ve clearly identified your purpose for assessment and know what data you need and how much you can spend, you’re ready to choose a tool. We evaluated a few reliable options from trustworthy providers to help you select the best fit for your needs.

Assessment Goal Tool
Implementation Fidelity
How effectively is the program being used? Where can improvements be made?
Second Step SEL DESSA-SSE Panorama SDQ DECA
PreK–8 K–5 Grades 3–5 PreK–8 Early Learning
Needs Assessment
Do you need SEL programming? Establish a baseline of students’ social-emotional competence.
Second Step SEL DESSA-SSE Panorama SDQ DECA
PreK–8 K–5 Grades 3–5 PreK–8 Early Learning
Summative Assessment
What knowledge have students acquired about SEL skills taught in the program?
Sample summative asessments for Kindergarten–Grade 5
Second Step SEL DESSA-SSE Panorama SDQ DECA
PreK–8 K–5 Grades 3–5 PreK–8 Early Learning
Formative Assessment
How well have students learned a specific topic (e.g. emotion management), and do any students need more individualized support?
Second Step SEL DESSA-SSE Panorama SDQ DECA
PreK–8 K–5 Grades 3–5 PreK–8 Early Learning
Program Evaluation
Are students gaining social-emotional competence? Is the program improving outcomes?
Second Step SEL DESSA-SSE Panorama SDQ DECA
PreK–8 K–5 Grades 3–5 PreK–8 Early Learning

Assessment Options by Provider

Second Step SEL for PreK–8 includes formative and summative assessments that allow educators to benchmark student skills and track students’ progress acquiring social-emotional skills taught in the program. View Second Step summative knowledge assessments for Kindergarten–Grade 5 in English (Spanish versions are also available, included with program purchase). Additional online surveys, checklists, and guidelines can help with program implementations. If your aim is to delve deeper and thoroughly evaluate students’ individual SEL competencies, then investing in an assessment-specific tool, such as those mentioned below, might be worthwhile.

Tool Provider Target Format Reports Available On-Demand Reports Time Per Student
Aperture K–5 online teacher yes 3–5 minutes
Aperture’s DESSA-SSE (Second Step Edition) is an online version of the well-known Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA). It has been customized for Second Step SEL for K–5 to score and track changes in social-emotional competencies quickly and easily.
Panorama Education PreK–8 (teachers); Grades 3–5 (students) online student; teacher yes varies; typically 15–30 minutes
Panorama Education’s SEL measurement platform aligns well with Second Step SEL. Customizable reports make it easy to analyze data by subgroups—such as race or ethnicity, gender, and Title I status—at the individual, class, grade, school, and district levels. Teacher surveys can be used for PreK–Grade 8. Student self-reports are available for Grades 3–8.
Youth in Mind Ages 2–17 paper/pencil student; teacher no 3–10 minutes
The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is a self-inventory behavioral screening questionnaire developed by psychiatrist Robert N. Goodman. Several versions are available, of different lengths and for different ages, to meet the needs of researchers, clinicians, and educators.
Devereaux PreK–8 online; paper/pencil teacher yes 5–10 minutes
Devereux Center for Resilient Children develops a variety of strength-based assessments and resources. Its DECA Preschool Program, used in conjunction with Second Step SEL for Early Learning, is a highly effective way to assess, build, and strengthen social-emotional skills, protective factors, and resilience in children ages 3–5.

Common Sense for Common Challenges

Findings from a 2011 broadly publicized study of universal SEL programs found that SEL works best when it’s part of a broader, coordinated effort to create a positive learning environment.2 That means it can be tricky to isolate and assess the factors contributing to or detracting from student success. We know from years of working with top-performing schools and from numerous studies that there are some key features to SEL success, including: whole-school adoption, well-trained staff, sequenced lessons to teach skills in age-appropriate ways, a variety of activities to engage learners, and a focus on specific skills in addition to more general support for positive behavior, with tiered levels of intervention and support.

Learn more on our blog about common assessment challenges and practical tips for creating a positive impact.
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Second Step Assessment Guides

The guides below provide more detailed information about the different ways evaluations can be designed, how to match evaluation strategies to program goals, how to implement Second Step SEL with fidelity, and how to use findings to improve outcomes.

Early Learning (PDF)

K–5 (PDF)

Middle School 2017 Edition (PDF)

Middle School 2008 Edition (PDF)

SEL Assessments Aligned to Second Step

To learn how the skills taught in Second Step SEL link to assessments and strategies in other programs, use the alignment charts below.

Second Step and DECA Alignment Chart (PDF)

Second Step and Panorama Alignment Chart (PDF)

1 Schools and districts are investing significantly in SEL programs because research shows that social-emotional competencies, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, contribute to academic and career success. However, defining and measuring SEL has not yet been standardized. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is currently leading a multidisciplinary working group to better understand which SEL measures are scientifically sound and most important to practitioners. To learn more or get involved, visit: CASEL Assessment Work Group.

2 Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. (2011). “The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions.” Child Development, 82, 405–432.