Context Matters: Assessing SEL

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Mar 13, 2019
by Louise Hallman
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Context Matters: Assessing SEL

Participants at Social and Emotional Learning: Time for Action discuss assessment methods for SEL Participants speak on the panel "SEL: Research Gaps and Advocacy Tools"

“What’s measured matters” is an often-used phrase in measurement and assessment, but on a panel on the measurement and assessment of SEL the mantra “context matters” was also frequently stated.

When it comes to assessing SEL, regardless of the context, the biggest challenge is the lack of agreement on what constitutes “social and emotional learning” and the naming of the key competencies.

But beyond terminology, assessment of SEL in crisis and conflict contexts is further hindered by the fact that many of the assessment methods have yet to be validated in those contexts. How do we know that existing methods will work in this context? How can they be adequately adapted?

While much is done to translate programs into local contexts and languages, this is less common for the assessments of those programs. If a child is learning in a language different to that which they use at home, they may not have the vocabulary necessary to express themselves in a self-reporting assessment. One solution is to empower and train local teachers to formulate their own assessments.

Measurement is important for more than just individual assessment; data gathering also helps measure, evaluate and improve SEL programs. This data should then be widely shared to improve other programs.

In countries where testing and assessment is seen as burdensome and stressful for both students and teachers, measurement of SEL can prove controversial. As one panelist remarked, “We don’t teach SEL for the sake of teaching it, to meet assessment goals... We teach SEL to provide the foundation for students’ education” but as another also rightly pointed out, “Without effective assessments, we cannot know if students are succeeding in our programs.” Ensuring that assessment does not become burdensome is key to ensuring widespread data collection.

Individual assessment and program M&E can help gather the data to make the case for SEL education for the unconvinced. Measuring SEL can thus make SEL matter more – whatever the context. 

Read more in Issue 2 of the program newsletter:

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The program Social and Emotional Learning: Time for Action is part of Salzburg Global’s long-running multi-year series Education for Tomorrow’s World. The program is held in partnership with ETS, Microsoft, Porticus, Qatar Foundation International and USAID’s Education in Crisis and Conflict Network.