Schools Can Identify At-Risk Students with SEL Game Zoo U, Study Finds

It’s well established that strong social and emotional (SE) skills are key to doing well in school—not only socially but also academically—and the earlier they’re learned, the better. To effectively intervene with students who are struggling, schools must first assess which students need help in which areas.

Unfortunately, the standard paper-and-pencil methods for SE skills assessment require considerable staff time, making them costly and time-consuming to implement. Furthermore, the results aren’t always reliable due to inconsistent administration and students’ altering their behavior because they know they’re being tested.

Welcome to Zoo U from Centervention on Vimeo.

Developed with funding from the Department of Education, Zoo U for grades 2–5 delivers a research-proven, game-based “stealth” SE skills assessment that takes approximately 20 minutes for students to complete themselves, providing schools with an affordable, efficient, and effective alternative to traditional measures.

Players are students at a virtual school for future zookeepers, where they navigate common social situations in six areas known to impact social, emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes: communication, cooperation, emotion regulation, empathy, impulse control, and social initiation. Taken together, these six skills measure a student’s overall social competence.

As students play, Zoo U tracks their behavior choices, adapting gameplay to their performance, and assesses their mastery of the individual SE skills. Based on the results, further skill-building scenarios are recommended for more personalized, targeted intervention and progress monitoring.

A study forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology* found that children who demonstrated higher social competence when playing Zoo U were significantly more likely to exhibit positive social, behavioral, and academic adjustment at school. In contrast, children who performed poorly in the game were significantly more likely to experience negative school-based outcomes, including disciplinary referrals, school suspensions, absenteeism, and lower academic grades.

These results suggest that schools can effectively use Zoo U to identify students at risk for academic and behavioral problems and use this data to better plan social and emotional intervention efforts. A previous study of Zoo U‘s intervention program** showed that children who completed the Zoo U social tutoring game felt more socially confident, behaved less aggressively, and were better able to regulate their emotions with peers.

Get a free trial of Zoo U, available from Centervention.

Contact us at 888-598-0103 or services@3cisd.com to discuss how we can help you develop a child-friendly assessment.

*DeRosier, M. E. (in press). Establishing the criterion validity of game-based social emotional skills assessment for school-based outcomes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.
**Craig, A. B., Brown, E., Upright, J., & DeRosier, M. E. (2016). Enhancing children’s social emotional functioning through virtual game-based delivery of social skills training. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 959–968. doi: 10.1007/s10826-015-0274-8