A Quick Way to Assess Students’ SEL Skills and Plan Improvements

By Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., coauthor of Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students: 30 Flexible Research-Based Activities to Build EQ Skills (Grades 5–9)

A Quick Way to Assess Students’ SEL Skills and Plan Improvements

Teachers and counselors often see students who misbehave or are suffering in various ways. The key question is, what underlies these problems? Usually these students have a deficiency in social and emotional competencies. Being able to identify students’ strengths and areas in need of improvement can guide more effective intervention. Here is a tool that those who regularly interact with students can complete based on everyday observations.

The assessment can help guide the interventions you plan. For students in grades 5 to 9, group interventions are the most powerful. In Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students, you will find interventions to match the amount of time you have available to work with a group of students. The activities are aligned with SEL areas as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

For each statement, give the student:

3 points if the statement is definitely true
2 points if the statement is sometimes true or sort of true
1 point if the statement is rarely true or not true

1 | 2 | 3 The student is comfortable with talking about their emotions.
1 | 2 | 3 The student knows lots of words to describe their feelings.
1 | 2 | 3 The student can tell how other people are feeling.
1 | 2 | 3 The student cares about how other people are feeling.
1 | 2 | 3 The student usually has a positive attitude about themself, even when facing challenges.
1 | 2 | 3 The student can manage their emotions and reactions in difficult situations.
1 | 2 | 3 The student can wait patiently for something they really want.
1 | 2 | 3 The student has reasonable goals.
1 | 2 | 3 The student has clear ideas about how to reach those goals.
1 | 2 | 3 The student can communicate their ideas assertively and respectfully.
1 | 2 | 3 The student listens attentively when other people are speaking.
1 | 2 | 3 The student knows what they need and how to ask for it.
1 | 2 | 3 The student knows how to solve problems independently.
1 | 2 | 3 The student is comfortable being in a group of peers.
Total points

Add up the student’s total number of points and use the following guidelines to estimate how much support and guidance they will need from SEL skill-building groups that you can conduct. As you’re able to, provide reinforcement and review of specific skill areas in which the student needs improvement both informally and formally.

14–21 points. The student needs significant SEL improvement. It’s not unusual for some students to have needs that are greater than you can meet through general instruction, and you may consider referring the student for supplemental services. But before that, you may find that these students will benefit from group SEL lessons and from working on some specific foundational skills.

22–32 points. The student has reasonable SEL skills already but will benefit from additional learning and practice, with a particular focus on their weaker skills, along with reinforcing the areas that are stronger. Group formats provide excellent practice opportunities.

33+ points. The student is an SEL star! Their emotional skills shine through in daily interactions. But all students benefit from practicing these skills, especially in a group. And even emotionally savvy kids have weaker areas. You can help these students work on their areas of weakness while also being aware of, and continuing to develop, their strengths. Consider recruiting your SEL stars to participate in intervention groups that are diverse in terms of SEL ability so that students can learn from each other, practice empathy, and establish trusting and caring relationships regardless of their interests, social status, or SEL levels.

Another way to think about this is to examine areas in which a student is given a score of 1. Regardless of the student’s total point score, these areas are reasons for concern, and students can benefit from interventions targeted to them. Boost Emotional Intelligence provides intervention strategies focusing on specific skills.

Note: This survey was adapted from Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students by Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., and Steven E. Tobias, Psy.D., copyright © 2018. You can download a reproducible version of the survey here.

Maurice EliasMaurice J. Elias, Ph.D., is a professor and former director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology, Rutgers University. He is also director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, academic director of the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service, and founding member of the Leadership Team for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Dr. Elias lectures nationally and internationally and devotes his research and writing to the area of social-emotional and character development in children, schools, and families. He is a licensed psychologist and writes a blog on social-emotional and character development for the George Lucas Educational Foundation at Edutopia. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Ellen, near their children and grandchildren.

Boost Emotional Intelligence in StudentsMaurice is coauthor of Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students: 30 Flexible Research-Based Activities to Build EQ Skills.

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