The transition into formal schooling is a crucial foundation that can set children on a cycle of success or failure in both academic and social domains. A child’s abilities to express healthy emotions, understand emotions of self and others, regulate emotion, attention, and behavior, make good decisions regarding social problems, and engage in a range of prosocial behaviors, all work together to promote a successful school experience.

However, many children have deficits in these skills by school entry, and educators lack the requisite tools to identify, track and assess skills these children need to learn. Thus, because social-emotional learning (SEL) is so crucial, assessment tools to pinpoint children’s skills and progress are vitally necessary. Previous work by the authors and other researchers has led to the development of strong assessment tools; however, these tools are often developed solely for research use, not practitioner application. In the following, using our assessment battery as an example, we will discuss the steps necessary to adapt SEL assessment for computer-based administration and optimal utility in early childhood education programs.

Key Take Away Points

  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is crucial for children’s early school success and therefore must be assessed.
  • SEL assessment tools for use by early childhood teachers need to be designed with them in mind, be immediately useful in the classroom, and be valid and reliable.
  • The computerization of SEL assessments will enable greater practitioner use, and help teachers track children’s social and emotional developmental progress as they approach the transition to school.

Author Biography

Susanne Denham is an applied developmental psychologist with particular expertise in the social and emotional development of children. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from Western Maryland College, Dr. Denham went on to receive her MA from the Johns Hopkins University and her doctorate from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Prior to coming to George Mason University in 1985, Dr. Denham was an instructor at the University of Maryland, College Park and a Guest Scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health Developmental Psychology Laboratory. Dr. Denham has used 11 years of hands-on experience as a school psychologist to aid in her research, which focuses on the role of emotional competence in children’s social and academic functioning, its assessment, and the role that parents and teachers play in fostering it. She has been funded by the Institute for Education Sciences, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (with Head Start and the Administration for Children and Families), the W.T. Grant Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. She has served on numerous editorial boards, and is past co-editor of the journal Social Development, and current editor of Early Education and Development.

Hideko Hamada Bassett is an Applied Developmental Psychologist specializing in children’s social and emotional development. Dr. Bassett received her M.S. from the University of Memphis and her doctorate from George Mason University. After completing the doctoral program at George Mason University, she became a research assistant professor there. Her research interests focus on parental influences on children’s social and emotional development (e.g., parenting style, parental socialization of emotion, attachment), children’s forgiveness development, and social and emotional aspects of young children’s school readiness (e.g., preschool teachers' role in young children's socialization of emotion).

Katherine Zinsser is a doctoral student in applied developmental psychology at George Mason University. She graduated from Smith College and completed her M.A. at George Mason. Before coming to George Mason, Katherine worked with adolescents in a wilderness-based therapy program, and conducted research on juvenile justice substance abuse treatment programs. Her research focuses on development within emotional contexts, and preschool teachers’ roles in and perceptions of the socialization of emotions. Her dissertation will focus on the impact of preschool organizational climate on teacher engagement, satisfaction, and emotional supportiveness in the classroom.


The present study was funded by NICHD grant #R01HD51514. It was also supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A110730 to George Mason University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.