Frequently Asked Questions 

Find the answers to your questions about the NYC DOE's newly adopted Social and Emotional Learning Screener Program.

What is an SEL screener?

A social-emotional screener is a brief questionnaire that asks about various aspects of a student’s social-emotional wellbeing. It is designed to assess their functioning at a point in time to inform how classroom teachers and other school staff support them.

What screening tool is being used?

The DESSA is a brief questionnaire that asks about eight domains of student social-emotional wellness: personal responsibility, optimistic thinking, goal-directed behavior, social awareness, decision-making, relationship skills, self-awareness and self-management. There is a teacher assessment option for students in grades K-12.

What social-emotional skills are being screened?

The DESSA is a brief questionnaire that asks about eight domains of student social-emotional wellness:

  • personal responsibility
  • optimistic thinking
  • goal-directed behavior
  • social awareness
  • decision-making
  • relationship skills
  • self-awareness
  • self-management

What are some example of the questions being asked?

Sure. Here are a few sample questions:

*During the past 4 weeks, how often did the child…

  • Show the ability to decide between right and wrong?
  • Show good judgment?
  • Learn from experience?
  • Prepare for school, activities, or upcoming events?
  • Follow the advice of a trusted adult?
  • Accept responsibility for what they did?

When are students being screened?

All students will be screened in the 2021-22 school year. 

Who completes the screener?

The adult that knows the student best will complete the screener. Each school will make a determination about who that is. In elementary schools, this is likely the classroom teacher. In middle or high schools, it may be the advisory or homeroom teacher. Schools will have choice in how to determine this.

Can parents opt out of the screener?

Yes, there is a consent process that allows any parent or caregiver to opt out of the screener for their child(ren).

Will this be used to label students or diagnose mental health problems?

The screener is a broad, social-emotional instrument. It is not a diagnostic mental health assessment and it will not be used to make special education referrals or mental health diagnoses. There are absolutely no labels applied for students who participate in screening.

Since students have been exposed to significant trauma from the coronavirus and systemic racism, what is the purpose of the screening? What questions are you trying to answer?

Due to the widespread exposure to stress and trauma we have proactively supported our schools with resources, staff training and expansion of direct services such as the hiring of 500 social workers, expansion of community schools, expansion of RJ and Harmony SEL programs, etc.

Although all students have been exposed to stress and trauma, that exposure will impact students in different ways and present itself differently as well. The screener is intended to personalize our understanding of what students have experienced so that we can provide targeted supports AND so we can strengthen the foundational programming that we know all students will require. The questions we are trying to answer are: What areas of students’ social-emotional development require additional support and attention? Where are students struggling? What are student strengths and how can we further develop them?

What happens after the screener is completed?

The information collected through the screeners is used to inform the implementation of a multi-tiered system of social-emotional support in the schools. It will be used to inform how universal, preventive social and emotional supports are offered and identify individual students who may require additional support. 

At the classroom level, teachers can analyze screening data for their class as a whole and identify areas of their social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that can be strengthened to support student growth and development.

Students who may need additional support will be referred to the school’s Crisis Team (or comparable teaming structure) for additional follow up to determine if supportive services are warranted and if so, what the most appropriate intervention is.

What resources do schools have to respond to needs that are identified?

With the hiring of 500 social workers, all DOE schools will have, at minimum, either a full-time social worker or a school-based mental health clinic beginning in the 2021-22 school year.

The expansion of Community Schools, in addition to existing social workers, counselors and community partners creates a comprehensive menu of support.

Where is the screener information stored? Who can access the information?

Screening data will be stored in a secure, online platform that meets the DOE’s security and privacy guidelines. Users can only view the information that they themselves input and information related to students in their class. They cannot see information for any other students. The only exception to this is individuals who are given a  school-wide access designation such as the Principal, Counselor, or Social Worker. With that access, they can support teams to interpret summary data at the class, grade or school-wide level.

Is the DESSA culturally responsive?

In addition to a language translation process that accounts for language nuances and culture-specific terminology, the DESSA is a strengths based assessment that has gone through extensive research and development to ensure cultural sensitivity. When designing the instrument, researchers engaged experts across many cultures to review and eliminate any items that have different norms across cultures (i.e. eye contact, communication, help-seeking behavior) to mitigate any potential bias.

Will screenings play a role in IEP referrals? Or for students already with IEPs could screenings impact services on an IEP? If so, how?

No. We have been clear in messaging thus far, and will continue to reiterate through communications and training that the tool is not diagnostic and is not used to identify students for special education. We collaborated with SEO colleagues in the selection of the tool and chose the DESSA because its asset-based framing minimized the likelihood of items triggering bias-based beliefs, punitive consequences or IEP referrals.

I have additional questions. Where should I go?

Please inquire with your school leaders first. If you're unable to find a specific answer, please visit the Contact page for details