SEL Assessment Dialogue Avoids the Obvious Question

District Administration Magazine included an article on its website last week entitled “SEL Check-ups At School.” Education Dive also published a brief based on the article entitled “Schools explore the best ways to gauge SEL skills.” There is an ongoing conversation about how social-emotional learning (SEL) skills can be assessed.

There are three primary SEL assessment tools schools are using mentioned in the District Administration Magazine by Victoria Clayton that are summarized by Amelia Harper at Education Dive:

Three current options are the Devereux Students Strengths Assessment, which is emerging as a leader in SEL assessment; Panorama’s assessment, which offers more student voice in the process; and a free, open-source option called Social and Emotional Competency Assessments, which was created by the Washoe County School District in Nevada.

She later writes:

SEL assessments also offer valuable feedback to teachers that allow them to craft their own responses to students in better ways. Schools can use the information to determine what changes need to be made to SEL programs or the ways they are implemented. And parents are often interested in the information as well so they can support their children’s social-emotional development at home. 

Clayton in her article at District Administration Magazine points out the silent data that can be captured through SEL assessments:

The SEL assessments are often coupled with school climate surveys, which offer the children an opportunity to tell adults where there may be culture or safety issues at school. “Our SEL assessment became this great way for our schools to incorporate that piece—student voice—into the decision-making for a school,” says Korene Horibata, district educational specialist.

In Kansas, leaders at Olathe Public Schools (29,600 students) chose Panorama to align SEL with Kansas Can, a statewide education initiative that calls for students to express themselves. Results indicated that most Olathe students felt strong in social awareness but shaky about grit and perseverance.

This has changed the way teachers engage with students, Assistant Superintendent Jessica Dain says. During regular instruction, teachers now guide students on overcoming challenges or successfully completing assignments when they feel overwhelmed or uncertain.

“Most importantly, it provides what I call ‘silent data’—the information that would typically go unmeasured and unsupported in the classroom,” Dain says.

Both authors discuss how schools should assess SEL, why they should assess SEL, but nowhere in this discussion is any voice of caution over whether schools should. 

This is classic group think mentality and why most education reforms have failed. Everybody jumps on the “brand new thing,” advocates it, boxes out any dissent, and moves forward without any data backing it up.

No one is asking the question, is this really what schools should focus their time on when they are struggling to teach core subjects? Also, is there any concern about student privacy?

No one in mainstream education policy circles or journalists writing about education seems to ask these types of questions.

CASEL Looks To Build Social-Emotional Learning Assessment

CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, launched a design challenge to create a tool in order to help schools measure social-emotional learning in their students. The Hechinger Report wrote they recently announced the 2017 winners.

The First Place winner for 2017 is:

Student Assessment Engagement
When students take an achievement test on a computer, metadata like the amount of time spent on each item are often collected. Research shows that students who often respond extremely fast–so quickly they could not have understood the item’s content–are likely disengaged from the test. Our measure quantifies how often students respond extremely quickly over the course of a test, which is strongly correlated with scores from measures of social-emotional learning constructs like self-regulation and self-management.

Submitted by:
James Soland, Research Scientist, NWEA
Nate Jensen, Senior Research Scientist, NWEA
Tran D. Keys, Executive Director of Research and Evaluation, Santa Ana Unified School District
Sharon Z. Bi, Educational Research Analyst, Santa Ana Unified School District
Emily Wolk, Assistant Director of Research and Evaluation, Santa Ana Unified School District

Of course, the winner would incorporate data mining into their submission! Can’t let good metadata go to waste!

Here’s the second place design winner:

Social Detective
Panorama’s Social Detective is designed to measure and help students practice social perspective-taking, a malleable and central social competency that underlies a vast range of social-emotional functioning at school and in life. In this performance task, students are challenged to be a “social detective” whose job is to figure out other people’s values, interests, and perspectives. After watching short video interviews, students answer a series of questions to gauge how well they perceive and understand each person.

Submitted by:
Panorama Education

Panorama Education explains “Social Detective” further on their blog:

This just looks like an awesome use of time.

They had a tie for third place:

The PERC is a computer-based tool that assesses students’ Persistence, Effort, Resilience and Challenge-seeking behavior. These are key behavioral expressions of a growth mindset of intelligence.
Submitted by:
Tenelle Porter and Kali Trzesniewski, Department of Human Ecology, University of California, Davis
Lisa Blackwell and Sylvia Roberts, MindsetWorks

The video below walks you through the tool.

The other third place winner is:

Zoo U Social Emotional Skills Assessment
Zoo U provides a game platform for performance-based formative assessment of social emotional skills in upper elementary grades.

Submitted by:
Melissa E. DeRosier, PhD, 3C Institute and Centervention
James M. Thomas, PhD, 3C Institute and Centervention

They explain what happens when students start playing the game:

Six short scenes at the beginning of the game provide a baseline for how students are doing with social and emotional skills: communication, cooperation, emotion regulation, empathy, impulse control, and social initiation.

Students then have an opportunity to play up to 30 scenarios to improve and reinforce learning for each of these skills.

The entire game takes 10-15 hours to play. They encourage teachers to spread that time out to play one or two times a week for 30 minutes each session.

You can see who won 4th-6th place here.