Think You Can’t Measure Social-Emotional Skills? Think Again

Educators need a social and emotional assessment tool that delivers accurate results. There are a number of measures available to educators, but few are as immersed in research as the DESSA. The DESSA has been standardized and norm-referenced, and the strong reliability and validity of the measure demonstrate that it is an effective measure of the social and emotional competencies of K-8 students.

Rooted in Research

The DESSA and the DESSA-mini are behavior rating scales for elementary school-age children (grades K-8). The tool can be completed by parents/guardians, teachers, out-of-school-time program staff, and staff at other child-serving agencies. Research has shown that the DESSA meets or exceeds the psychometric standards for reliability and validity put forth by the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education.

The DESSA was created from a strong academic basis. A team of researchers (including Paul LeBuffe, Valerie Shapiro, and Jack Naglieri) formulated the assessment based on scholarly literature surrounding social and emotional learning, positive youth development, and resilience. The researchers aligned the DESSA to the gold-standard SEL framework provided by CASEL ( The tool measures CASEL’s five core competencies, and additional measures are included to provide the most actionable data and a holistic look at a child’s strengths and needs.

A Statistically Valid Sample

The DESSA has been standardized to a national sample of teachers, parents, and educational staff. To assure educators that the instrument can be used with students nationwide; regardless of age, gender, or other factors; the developers of the DESSA applied statistical rigor in creating a normalized and standardized test sample of students. The student population included over 2,000 students from all 50 states of the U.S., and the Statistical Abstract of the United States 2008 was used as a benchmark to ensure a broad sample.

The DESSA’s gender and racial distribution, as well as the geographic regions represented by the students, correlate to data on U.S. demographics. Additionally, researchers standardized the socioeconomic status of the children by referencing school lunch programs.

A Reliable Measure

In creating the DESSA, researchers tested its reliability in a number of ways. Statistical analysis of internal reliability was conducted using the student sample mentioned above. The data was analyzed using Cronbach’s alpha, which confirmed that the DESSA demonstrates internal reliability. In order to show the DESSA is consistent regardless of its administration date, the research team measured the correlations between two DESSA assessments conducted at two different times. The results showed that the correlations, both for parents and teachers, gave strong support for the validity of the DESSA.

Research was also conducted to demonstrate the DESSA is reliable when administered by different raters. This analysis was done to show that the DESSA produces a reliable picture of a child’s social and emotional state regardless of whether the assessment is completed by a teacher, counselor, or parent. The analysis confirmed that results are not significantly affected by the person who administers the assessment.

Strong Validity

Besides the need for reliability, an assessment must also be valid. One way the researchers demonstrated validity was by comparing two dissimilar groups of students. The first group came from the standardization sample mentioned above, and the other was comprised of students who were identified as having emotional difficulties. It would be expected that the assessment would show the second group to have greater need for improvement in social and emotional competencies. The researchers’ statistical analysis found this to be the case, which indicates the DESSA has strong validity. Another study demonstrating the validity of the DESSA was conducted in 2009 by researchers Amanda Nickerson and Callen Fishman.

Using other assessment tools (the BASC-2 and the BERS-2), researchers tested the DESSA and found that it exhibited both convergent and divergent validity. To effectively evaluate social and emotional competency of their students, educators need a social and emotional assessment tool that is both statistically reliable and valid. The DESSA is one of the few SEL assessments deeply rooted in research. Strong empirical evidence demonstrates the tool’s reliability and validity, which means it delivers accurate and reliable results.

Interested in learning more about the DESSA from Aperture Education? Contact our SEL advisors today!