3 actions for assessing students’ social-emotional learning skills

Here are components of a social-emotional universal screening approach that can be implemented in a school district regardless of whether students are learning in school or remotely.
By: | October 28, 2020
Getty Images: Carol YepesGetty Images: Carol Yepes

A student with a disability who regularly becomes distracted after lunch may be goofing off, feeling overwhelmed by the assignment, or worried about the risk to his family’s health in light of the novel coronavirus.

Having a teacher observe the student’s behavior, as well as that of the rest of his classmates, and using rating scales as a part of universal screenings three times a year, can help in identifying anyone who may need intervention within a multi-tier system of supports to be able to benefit from his education regardless of his circumstances.

“Children come to us with social-emotional deficits like they do academic deficits,” says Patti Wilson, RTI2 coordinator at Clarksville-Montgomery County (Tenn.) School System. “Our job is to identify those [deficits] and teach the skills they need to be successful.”

Wilson’s district uses FastBridge Learning’s Social, Academic, Emotional Behavior Risk Screener, known as SAEBRS for teachers, and mySAEBRS for students, but keep in mind there are other rating scales out there for conducting social-emotional learning assessments.

Here are some of the components of a social-emotional universal screening approach you can implement in your district regardless of whether students are learning in school or remotely:

1. Ask teachers to rate students’ social-emotional skills.

Encourage teachers to respond to questions online about their students’ behavior. SAEBRS asks teachers to take 3 minutes to rate students’ social (externalizing), academic (executive functioning), and emotional (internalizing) behavior in 19 questions. For example, they must rate whether students “almost always, often, sometimes, or never” exhibit:

  • Social behavior
     Disruptive behavior.
     Impulsiveness.
  • Academic behavior
     Preparedness for instruction.
     Difficulty working independently.
  • Emotional behavior
     Withdrawal.
     Worry.

Ensure that teachers only rate students after they have worked with them for four to six weeks and have a well-rounded sense of their personalities, so they do not make snap judgments, Wilson says. “Teachers should know the student and the student’s everyday behavior.”

2. Ask students to rate their own social-emotional skills.

Encourage students to use their computers or tablets to answer questions about their own behavior. The mySAEBRS assessment, for example, asks students to take 5 minutes to answer 20 questions to rate in first person whether “almost always, often, sometimes, or never”:

  • Social behavior
     I have trouble waiting my turn.
     I disrupt class.
  • Academic behavior
     I have trouble working alone.
     I participate in class.
  • Emotional behavior
     I feel sad.
     I am worried.

Teachers may not see signs of worry or anxiety, so it is helpful for students to rate themselves, Wilson says. Students must be in second grade or higher. “It’s fantastic to have the students’ voices,” she says. “But younger students may not be accurate reporters.” Younger students typically don’t have the vocabulary or understanding yet to describe when they are, for example, anxious or depressed.

Recognize that students with autism may not accurately report either. They may say they almost always like interacting with others while not realizing that what they are doing is engaging in an activity near their peers without interacting with them. “The teacher may see that the student doesn’t cooperate well with others and maintains a wide area of personal space,” Wilson says.

If there’s a discrepancy, you can have a discussion about why, Wilson says. “The nice thing about these scales is you can see if the student and teacher have the same perception about the student’s skill set. If you see a huge discrepancy, you can look into why that dichotomy is happening.”

3. Communicate findings to parents.

Rather than focus on the number of disciplinary referrals the student has had or of how many assignments the student has not turned in, use the rating scales to help parents see you are trying to focus on the why and how to help resolve the issue, Wilson says. “We’re not just looking at the kid as a number. We want to collaborate. This makes difficult conversations easier to have.”

Some parents may be defensive about the responses or suggest that their child didn’t take the assessment seriously, Wilson says. You can say you are going to keep an eye on the student to make sure there isn’t a problem if you and the teacher think there is. But most parents see the results as a wake-up call and recognize that their child needs support.

“Assessing this way helps everyone understand our clear purpose,” she says. “No one would ever come to the table and say it’s OK that this student can’t read. So it’s also not OK for this student not to be able to handle stressful situations.”

Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.