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SEL Frameworks: ACT Tessera, the Big Five, and CASEL Alignment

My wife is an 8th grade math teacher in a downtown Tucson, Arizona charter school, located in the basement of our city’s historic YMCA. Her primary job is introducing 13-year-olds to solving linear equations and applying quadratic functions (and I dare readers here to take on such a project on a daily basis!).

She doesn’t need any research-based evidence to know that her job is made considerably easier—and her students learn more effectively and efficiently—when her students are supporting each other during classroom activities, when they are staying calm and not getting angry or upset, when they set goals and don’t give up, and when they make good choices about handling the difficult decisions that come your way when you are 13 in the year 2018.

She and her colleagues discuss and reflect upon this part of their work every single day—but they hardly ever use formal or technical terms for what they are describing as their hopes for student behaviors, and they don’t really give much attention to what researcher might determine is the “right” way to organize or label these behaviors. They use commonplace descriptors: kind and helpful; calm and cool; and persistent and organized.

School systems—at whatever level, be it global, national, state, district, school, or classroom—ought to be clear with themselves and their community about their commitments to student learning, especially in the social and emotional areas, so clarifying and communicating widely their particular common terminology is very valuable. (I discuss this in step 2 of my recent ACT e-book, Eight Steps to Strengthening SEL in Your School or District).

After much research and consideration, ACT has chosen a framework known as the Big Five Factors (BFF) for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) assessments, and the ACT® Holistic Framework™. The Big Five Factors, identified after many years of research and analysis, are these: Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, Openness, and Extraversion.

For our SEL assessment, ACT Tessera™, we’ve re-named the Big Five Factors with labels more widely used by educators, parents and policymakers.

In the US today, where the conversation about SEL is more elevated than it has ever been before, the CASEL framework is often referenced. It also features a quintet of skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Although the CASEL framework has a strong appeal in the US, the BFF is widely referenced internationally. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), for instance, uses the BFF frequently in its educational and economic studies, such as the new “Study of Social Emotional Skills.“

Does it matter whether you choose the CASEL quintet or the Big Five Factor framework to guide and inform your SEL programming? Well, we at ACT can certainly make a compelling case for the value of the Big Five framework, and why it has a great evidence-basis in psychological research, and has been established as having wide impact on success in schooling, careers, and life.

But if your school uses the CASEL framework, it doesn’t mean you can’t also use Tessera. Remember my wife: what she and her colleagues work toward every single day with their students are kindness and helpfulness, staying calm and cool under pressure, and persistence and organization.

These things teachers care most about can immediately be found in either of the two popular frameworks. Cross-walking the two most widely used frameworks becomes relatively straightforward, especially when you use the OECD version (John, De Fruyt 2015) that clusters the Big Five factors into three categories.

Is there value in establishing a coherent and consistent framework in your school or system? Of course, there’s great value. ACT Tessera can help in providing a consistent approach and common language to help you do so. But whatever framework you choose, bear in mind that different approaches can easily be equated to each other, and with that established, we can get back to the most important work: using all the resources available to us in the challenging but vital work of helping our young people achieve success.


Source: John, O. P., & De Fruyt, F. D. (2015). Framework for the Longitudinal Study of Social and Emotional Skills in Cities. (Page 33) Retrieved from

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ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in nearly 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career.