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Assessing Students' Social and Emotional Learning

reviewed by Jeffrey Liew & Sarah K. Ura - September 17, 2019

coverTitle: Assessing Students' Social and Emotional Learning
Author(s): Clark McKown
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co., New York
ISBN: 0393713350, Pages: 192, Year: 2019
Search for book at Amazon.com

Many of us who have worked in schools know firsthand that children struggle with stress, trauma, and adversity on a daily basis. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than 20% of children in the United States live in poverty. In a national survey study on youths’ exposure to violence, nearly 40% reported experiencing a physical assault within the last year, often perpetrated by peers (Finkelhor, Turner, Shattuck, & Hamby, 2015). Overwhelming evidence shows how chronic stress compromises or interferes with children’s brain development and learning, secure relationships with their teachers and peers, and physical and mental health (e.g., Evans & Schamberg, 2009; Shaw, Winslow, Owens, & Hood, 1998). The science on social and emotional learning (SEL) suggests that SEL is a promising and proactive approach to foster positive development and resilience, enhance coping skills, and reduce or prevent problem behaviors and school violence (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). Clark McKown’s book, Assessing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Guide to Meaningful Measurement (SEL Solutions Series), is an excellent resource to help educators and practitioners with SEL assessment.

McKown’s book is solidly grounded in his research, clinical training, and expertise on the development and evaluation of scalable, evidence-based social-emotional assessment tools or systems. The book is tailored to those working with elementary schools, but many of the concepts and approaches are applicable to higher grades. Educators, administrators, and practitioners who are pressed for time will find this book an easy and quick read. McKown is a highly engaging writer who has a gift for explaining complex concepts in a clear and conversational way. He also provides his readers with useful resources and tools, such as worksheets and tables that help readers to work through their assessment goals, select and implement assessment methods, and effectively use the assessment data for a high-impact SEL initiative.

“An SEL assessment initiative without a clear definition is like a ship without a rudder – it might find its way to port, but is more likely to flounder” (p. 3). McKown’s book gives educators, administrators, and practitioners the direction they need to navigate the process of selecting, implementing, and assessing school-based SEL programs. In Chapters One and Two, he emphasizes the importance of forming a team and identifying a model or theory to anchor the team as they work through the process of defining their goals and the specific SEL skills that are most important for their school or district. In Chapters Three and Four, McKown explains why technically sound assessments are so important and provides a very user-friendly consumer’s guide to psychometrics, including discussion of multiple types of reliability and validity. As part of psychometrics and accurate measurement or assessment, McKown also calls for the need to be thoughtful about cultural fairness and discusses the potential for data misinterpretation that can result from a lack of understanding about the intended uses and limitations of assessment instruments. McKown breaks down complex information about psychometrics and offers concrete steps and guidance to readers so they can avoid “off-label” use of assessments and minimize the risk of unintended or unforeseen side effects and consequences for groups of students, schools, or districts. He emphasizes making informed and thoughtful decisions about SEL assessments that can maximize the likelihood of improving things for the school or district. Chapter Five provides readers with a road map to effectively put the data from SEL assessments to use, including understanding and accurately interpreting scores and results to maximize positive impact in schools or districts. By the closing chapter, it is clear that McKown has provided readers who want to implement school-based SEL programs with the practical information and key steps that will set them up for success.

In this book, McKown has addressed the major issues and pitfalls encountered in school-based SEL measurement and condensed complicated concepts in a concise, practitioner-friendly volume. His use of humor and a conversational style of writing, along with the clear organization and breadth of topics covered, will make this book a trusted go-to resource for educators and administrators undertaking SEL measurement in schools. McKown’s Assessing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Guide to Meaningful Measurement (SEL Solutions Series) is a highly accessible and scientifically grounded book. Readers will be empowered with information to take positive action to improve the skills and lives of children in our schools.


Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.

Evans, G. W., & Schamberg, M. A. (2009). Childhood poverty, chronic stress, and adult working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(16), 6545–6549.

Finkelhor, D., Turner, H. A., Shattuck, A., & Hamby, S. L. (2015). Prevalence of childhood exposure to violence, crime, and abuse: Results from the national survey of children’s exposure to violence. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(8), 746–754.

Shaw, D. S., Winslow, E. B., Owens, E. B., Hood, N. (1998). Young children’s adjustment to chronic family adversity: A longitudinal study of low-income families. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 37(5), 545–553.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 17, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23096, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 11:01:39 PM

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About the Author
  • Jeffrey Liew
    Texas A&M University
    E-mail Author
    JEFFREY LIEW is a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at Texas A&M University. Liew's research expertise is on social-emotional development with an emphasis on emotion, self-regulation, and executive functions. The majority of his work focuses on the roles of emotionality or reactivity and self-regulation in academic, psychosocial, and health-related outcomes from the preschool years to the high school and college years. His research has been supported by federal, state, and foundation grants, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Liew is associate editor for Early Education and Development, consulting editor for Child Development, and co-editor for the section on social emotional learning in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Education.
  • Sarah Ura
    Texas A&M University
    E-mail Author
    SARAH K. URA earned her Master of Social Work and is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Psychology at Texas A&M University. Her research interests include outcome measurement of school-based social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions and teachers’ cultural and social-emotional competencies.
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