Social Emotional Assessments in Schools: How to Determine the Best Assessment Tool

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Evaluations for special education are oftentimes a large portion of a school social worker’s role. Determining the best social emotional assessment tools to use can be confusing- here we aim to untangle the process and outline a few of the key determining factors to pick the right assessment tool.

Best social emotional assessment tools with logos from various assessments.

Presenting Problem

The IEP process starts with a referral meeting where the team will determine whether further evaluation is necessary. During this meeting, you may hear concerns from members of the team about specific social/ emotional problems the student is experiencing.

Selecting the appropriate social emotional assessment may be based on the concerns that arise from that meeting, as well as any concerns that arise as you are collecting data for the evaluation. The districts where I’ve worked all shared that best practice is to start with a BASC (Behavior Assessment System for Children) and complete further assessments based on areas of need on the BASC.

Opting for Informal Social Emotional Assessments

The type of assessment and quantity of formal assessments needed may vary depending on the state/ district/ school protocols. Sometimes, it may be sufficient to complete a less formal assessment. Two options for informal assessments include the RIOT method and ICEL method.

RIOT Method: Record Review, Interviews, Observations, Tests.
The RIOT Method

The RIOT method consists of a review of records, student/ parent/ teacher feedback or interviews, classroom observational data and some testing or progress monitoring.

ICEL Method: Instruction, Curriculum, Environment, Learning.
ICEL Method

The ICEL method is similar to the RIOT method in that there is not necessarily any “formal” testing. However, the ICEL method looks at various areas of a student’s day/ school experience and the targeted interventions would be developed from there. More information on both RIOT and ICEL can be found on the National Center for Intensive Intervention’s (NCII) website.

In short: RIOT refers to the assessment methods, and ICEL are the areas to assess.

For a more in-depth explanation of the difference between informal and formal assessment measures, check out this post about conducting initial evaluations. Check back soon for a resource about common social/ emotional assessments for each suspected disability category.

Available Assessments

While it would be great to have any assessment out there at the drop of a hat, typically this is not the case in schools. Assessments are expensive, and for large districts with a ton of mental health providers all needing to complete assessments, it can get pretty outrageous.

Districts typically partner or pay for a few assessments for common presenting problems. However, often districts pay for assessments that are evidence based from larger companies. There may be an assessment from a lesser-known company that your district doesn’t endorse.

This means that staff might have to become comfortable with the limited assessments or get training on new assessments.

Familiarity with an Assessment

One of the psychologists I worked with shared that she spent her entire first year in a school reading assessment manuals. While I’m not suggesting it’s necessary to be that intense, understanding a wide variety of assessments and how to score them is definitely helpful!

Some districts have templates of write ups, which can be super helpful to understand what the assessment is rating. If you have never administered an assessment, it would be ideal to shadow someone when they are administering an assessment.

Additional Resources

Check out these other resources about social emotional assessments in schools:

School Social Work Association of America

Rand Education and Labor

EdInstruments Social/ Emotional Competencies Instruments

After you’ve determined a presenting problem and determined that the student qualifies for an IEP, check out these tips for writing a social/ emotional goal.

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