Measuring Social Emotional Learning Through Student Surveys in the CORE Districts

A Pragmatic Approach to Validity and Reliability
Hunter Gehlbach
Johns Hopkins University
Heather J. Hough
Policy Analysis for California Education, Stanford University


As educational practitioners and policymakers expand the range of student outcomes they assess, student perception surveys—particularly those targeting social-emotional learning—have grown in popularity. Despite excitement around the potential for measuring a wider array of important student outcomes, concerns about the validity of the inferences that might be drawn from student self-reports persist. One of the most ambitious attempts to incorporate student perception surveys into a larger assessment framework has occurred through CORE—a consortium of school districts in California. Pulling from CORE’s data and their use within these districts, we summarize the evidence for validity and reliability of CORE’s student-report surveys on social-emotional learning through a pragmatic approach. After clarifying why validity needs to be viewed as an ongoing process of accumulating evidence (not as an end state), we answer four guiding questions that explain different facets of validity for school leaders:

  • How well were the measures designed?
  • How well do the measures fit the context?
  • With what level of fidelity were the data acquired?
  • To what extent are the data being used appropriately?

By detailing the answers to these questions on the student surveys within the CORE districts, we hope to provide guidance around the use of social-emotional learning surveys, both within and outside of the CORE districts. Our ultimate aim is to facilitate decision-making for educational leaders as they weigh decisions regarding the use of student surveys as a component of their assessment programs.

Suggested citationGehlbach, H., & Hough, H. J. (2018, May). Measuring social emotional learning through student surveys in the CORE districts: A pragmatic approach to validity and reliability [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.