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The ACT Holistic Framework: A Free Tool to Help with SEL Programming and Assessment

While many educators understand the importance of evaluating students beyond just academic levels, many struggle to find free, evidence-based tools to support the implementation of their programs. Here are four challenges we’ve heard from the field:

Challenge #1: At a public high school near Toledo, Ohio, administrators and counselors select students for honors classes based in significant part on student character or social and emotional strengths. Teachers are asked to rate students’ strengths using a 1-10 scale, but they do not provide any detailed information on what qualifies for each number on that 1-10 scale. How can they differentiate these ratings in a meaningful and consistent way?

Challenge #2: In a district outside of Columbus, Ohio, the district’s leadership has determined the academic and personal attributes they are prioritizing for students’ college and career readiness and are paying particular attention to postsecondary education and the needs of the workforce. These skills have been broadly defined using terms like responsibility and collaboration, and a chunk of time each week is dedicated to supporting students in developing those personal skills. However, they have neither specific evidence-based components of those skills nor developmental standards for those skills.

Challenge #3: At a public high school near Lexington, Kentucky, educators are implementing ACT® Tessera®, a social and emotional learning (SEL) assessment, for the first time with all ninth graders. In addition, educators are dedicating 20 minutes each day for teachers and students to meet and address nonacademic topics. The principal, though, reports that his teachers aren’t sure how they can best help students, after seeing their SEL assessment results, plan and monitor their progress over the course of the year with detailed performance level descriptors for these critically important skills.

Challenge #4: At a Catholic school near Cincinnati, Ohio, the Assistant Principal is preparing the school’s accreditation self-study, a major pillar of which is social and emotional learning. The self-study requires them to explain how the school’s educational programs are tied to standards and how the school evaluates student progress using developmental expectations for student competencies. How can they make sure they address these items for their social and emotional learning pillar?


Educators facing challenges like those illustrated above can use the ACT® Holistic Framework™ to know where they should target their efforts for growth and evaluation. The ACT Holistic Framework, which emphasizes a broad range of skills and encourages a more expansive vision of the outcomes that help to define student success, is a free and available online.

The ACT Holistic Framework is made up of four domains, one of which is social and emotional skills (aka “behavioral skills”). The behavioral skills domain is divided into six key skill sets, each of which is carefully broken out into two to six components. These components are then broken into subcomponents. The skill sets, components, and subcomponents provide the building blocks for targeted growth and evaluation.

To help educators with implementation of holistic evaluation, ACT Holistic Framework researchers have provided developmentally-differentiated rubrics for the associated behaviors for the following groups: grades 3-5, grades 6-8, grades 9-12, postsecondary, and workforce. There are four levels for each of these groups. Educators can access and reference these rubrics here.

So what can educators do with these free rubrics?

  • The teachers near Toledo now have short, simple rubrics for completing their student evaluation on responsibility and collaboration. 
  • Educators just outside Columbus can tie their life skills program confidently to an evidence-based framework that ensures what they are promoting will support their students for both college and career. 
  • Students and their teachers near Lexington can better break down their SEL assessment results into actionable skills, allowing them to monitor growth over the year in their advisory program. 
  • The Assistant Principal just outside Cincinnati can write her self-study confidently knowing that her emerging SEL program has standards underlying it and that her school can use to monitor their progress toward their goals.
Need some help with implementation? ACT can support your school or district in using this tool in any or all of the ways described above. Click here to learn more about how to put the ACT Holistic Framework and ACT Tessera into action.

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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.