Technology in School

The 3 Most Important Questions To Ask When Evaluating Social Emotional Learning Screeners

By Austin Ramsdell     Aug 7, 2018

The 3 Most Important Questions To Ask When Evaluating Social Emotional Learning Screeners

Classroom teachers are increasingly aware of the wide-ranging and long lasting benefits of social-emotional learning programs—from improved academic performance to positive family and work relationships and better mental health.

At the same time, school leaders must ask themselves how they can develop the most comprehensive and impactful programs to help students build these all important SEL skills. Screening tools can help, allowing educators to get to know their students, find out where they’re struggling and understand the key areas in which each student needs support. But how to select a tool that best suits the needs of your school or district?

My organization has developed a suite of tools—called CoVitality—in collaboration with the University of California, Santa Barbara. Grounded in decades of research into positive youth development and funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, our framework is a comprehensive set of assessment tools that help schools evaluate students’ mental health, social and emotional well-being, as well as several important risk factors.


Monitoring Students' Social and Emotional Health, by UCSB Distinguished Professor Michael Furlong, 2017.


Based on our work with thousands of students in 15 countries, we’ve determined the three most important questions to ask when thinking about adopting an SEL screening tool for your school or school district.

1. Is It Truly Research-Validated?

This is the most important question to ask when choosing any type of assessment tool. A truly research-validated assessment takes significant time and money to develop. So what does that actually mean? In short, a research-validated assessment is one that has been scientifically tested for both validity and reliability.

Validity is the extent to which an instrument measures what it is supposed to measure. In terms of process, researchers collect and analyze data (the more the better) to assess how accurate the tool is.

Reliability is essentially a term for consistency. Does the assessment consistently measure what it is intended to measure? If so, this means that the assessment has been proven to produce consistent results. Validity is the extent to which an instrument measures what it is supposed to measure. In terms of process, researchers collect and analyze data (the more the better) to assess how accurate the tool is.

As an example, our screener is an industry leader when it comes to measuring social-emotional wellness with both validity and reliability. The results, published in over 30 peer reviewed journals, provide strong evidence to support the theoretical model underlying CoVitality and its capacity to accurately and reliably measure student well being. (You may download the complete list of articles documenting this research.)

On the other hand, using assessments that have not been accurately validated can be risky for your students and your school if they give false results, fail to identify truly at risk students, or steer the wrong resources to the wrong students.


The CoVitality screener, showing how a student's reported personal strengths correlate with a reduction in substance use; full size image here.

When speaking with an assessment vendor, you should always ask these questions: Has your assessment been published in a peer reviewed journal? If so, can you please share a link to the article?

2. How Easy Is It To Administer?

When selecting an SEL assessment, one of the most critical issues to consider is how quickly and simply it can be administered. If the assessment is 100 questions and takes 45 minutes per student to complete, for example, it will be a major pain point for both teachers and students. Ideally, you want to find an assessment that has enough questions to properly measure the social emotional skill sets of your students without fatiguing them.

A well-crafted SEL screener should contain no more than 50 questions to accurately measure social and emotional health and should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.

Similarly, online administration should be as easy as posting the survey link on your school’s website and then carving out 15-20 minutes in homeroom classes for students to complete the survey.


A question asked students in the CoVitality Screener; full size image here.

3. Are Results Available in Real Time?

Real-time results reporting is an extremely useful feature that is offered by only a few assessment providers. More often than not, a school or district will administer a screener and then wait weeks—or even months—for the results. Imagine the missed opportunities . . . and the possible repercussions if an at risk student causes harm before the school receives its report.

In today’s highly technical society there’s no reason to wait for your SEL assessment results. Students who are struggling require the most immediate intervention possible, based on informed and validated recommendations. In an ideal situation, you will have access to a user friendly portal or app where teachers, counselors, administrators and district level staff can view results immediately, in both an individual and aggregated format. This allows all stakeholders to work together in real time to make informed decisions that can help each and every student.


The CoVitality App Dashboard, which gives school and district staff a concise overview of the screener administration progress, how many students fall into each defined risk group, and access to all reports; full size image here.

Reliably evaluating the social and emotional competencies of students is a crucial first step in establishing a successful SEL program.

Technology in School

The 3 Most Important Questions To Ask When Evaluating Social Emotional Learning Screeners

By Austin Ramsdell     Aug 7, 2018

The 3 Most Important Questions To Ask When Evaluating Social Emotional Learning Screeners

Classroom teachers are increasingly aware of the wide-ranging and long lasting benefits of social-emotional learning programs—from improved academic performance to positive family and work relationships and better mental health.

At the same time, school leaders must ask themselves how they can develop the most comprehensive and impactful programs to help students build these all important SEL skills. Screening tools can help, allowing educators to get to know their students, find out where they’re struggling and understand the key areas in which each student needs support. But how to select a tool that best suits the needs of your school or district?

My organization has developed a suite of tools—called CoVitality—in collaboration with the University of California, Santa Barbara. Grounded in decades of research into positive youth development and funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, our framework is a comprehensive set of assessment tools that help schools evaluate students’ mental health, social and emotional well-being, as well as several important risk factors.


Monitoring Students' Social and Emotional Health, by UCSB Distinguished Professor Michael Furlong, 2017.


Based on our work with thousands of students in 15 countries, we’ve determined the three most important questions to ask when thinking about adopting an SEL screening tool for your school or school district.

1. Is It Truly Research-Validated?

This is the most important question to ask when choosing any type of assessment tool. A truly research-validated assessment takes significant time and money to develop. So what does that actually mean? In short, a research-validated assessment is one that has been scientifically tested for both validity and reliability.

Validity is the extent to which an instrument measures what it is supposed to measure. In terms of process, researchers collect and analyze data (the more the better) to assess how accurate the tool is.

Reliability is essentially a term for consistency. Does the assessment consistently measure what it is intended to measure? If so, this means that the assessment has been proven to produce consistent results. Validity is the extent to which an instrument measures what it is supposed to measure. In terms of process, researchers collect and analyze data (the more the better) to assess how accurate the tool is.

As an example, our screener is an industry leader when it comes to measuring social-emotional wellness with both validity and reliability. The results, published in over 30 peer reviewed journals, provide strong evidence to support the theoretical model underlying CoVitality and its capacity to accurately and reliably measure student well being. (You may download the complete list of articles documenting this research.)

On the other hand, using assessments that have not been accurately validated can be risky for your students and your school if they give false results, fail to identify truly at risk students, or steer the wrong resources to the wrong students.


The CoVitality screener, showing how a student's reported personal strengths correlate with a reduction in substance use; full size image here.

When speaking with an assessment vendor, you should always ask these questions: Has your assessment been published in a peer reviewed journal? If so, can you please share a link to the article?

2. How Easy Is It To Administer?

When selecting an SEL assessment, one of the most critical issues to consider is how quickly and simply it can be administered. If the assessment is 100 questions and takes 45 minutes per student to complete, for example, it will be a major pain point for both teachers and students. Ideally, you want to find an assessment that has enough questions to properly measure the social emotional skill sets of your students without fatiguing them.

A well-crafted SEL screener should contain no more than 50 questions to accurately measure social and emotional health and should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.

Similarly, online administration should be as easy as posting the survey link on your school’s website and then carving out 15-20 minutes in homeroom classes for students to complete the survey.


A question asked students in the CoVitality Screener; full size image here.

3. Are Results Available in Real Time?

Real-time results reporting is an extremely useful feature that is offered by only a few assessment providers. More often than not, a school or district will administer a screener and then wait weeks—or even months—for the results. Imagine the missed opportunities . . . and the possible repercussions if an at risk student causes harm before the school receives its report.

In today’s highly technical society there’s no reason to wait for your SEL assessment results. Students who are struggling require the most immediate intervention possible, based on informed and validated recommendations. In an ideal situation, you will have access to a user friendly portal or app where teachers, counselors, administrators and district level staff can view results immediately, in both an individual and aggregated format. This allows all stakeholders to work together in real time to make informed decisions that can help each and every student.


The CoVitality App Dashboard, which gives school and district staff a concise overview of the screener administration progress, how many students fall into each defined risk group, and access to all reports; full size image here.

Reliably evaluating the social and emotional competencies of students is a crucial first step in establishing a successful SEL program.

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