Getting Smart – Day Three – Measuring Social and Emotional Learning




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Dec 07, 2016
by Louise Hallman
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Getting Smart – Day Three – Measuring Social and Emotional Learning

Third day of Getting Smart considers the instruments and frameworks for measuring SEL Richard Roberts, Tatiana Filgueiras and Meesook Kim

If “what is measured is treasured” is true, then how should we measure social and emotional (SEL) skills? This was the main question for the third day of the Salzburg Global Seminar session Getting Smart: Measuring and Evaluating Social and Emotional Learning

The “Big Five” personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) are often used as a framework for SEL assessments, with labels changed depending on for whom the tests are being conducted, e.g. “agreeableness” can be re-framed as “cooperativeness” in a workplace test. Another panelist labeled them as “self-management, relationship with others, agreeableness, emotional resilience and openness.” These different terms for similar traits can cause confusion. “We suffer from a ‘jingle jangle’ fallacy,” remarked on panelist, however, standardization of terminology remains unlikely given the differing priorities of the different stakeholders.

Many tools for assessing SEL skills, such as personality inventories, rely on self-reporting, asking the person tested to rate themselves and their skills. However this can lead to concerns of “fakeability,” especially if the tests become more high-stakes. The higher the stakes, the more likely the test-taker will alter their answers to fit what they perceive to be the “correct” answer desired by the test-givers.

Different assessment designs, such as “forced choice” assessments (asking the test-taker which of several traits is most or least like them) can lead to a more precise measurement and more comparable data.

Combining this self-reporting data with results from other tests, such as ratings completed by teachers and parents, can lead to even more precise measurements.

Testing children in isolation, however, can reduce the opportunity to evaluate the “social” side of SEL; combining teachers’ observations can provide further precision than ratings alone.

Data from ratings and observations can then be combined further with other datasets, enabling insights to be drawn on how students’ performance in SEL assessments correlates to their academic performance or potential for criminal behavior, for instance.

Successful, insightful and actionable measurements require buy-in from multiple stakeholders, from students and teachers to parents and policymakers. However, these different stakeholders buy-in at different speeds, and efforts to accept and adopt SEL – and the measurement thereof – needs to accommodate this.

Practical Proposals

If we are to scale-up the implemen­tation of social and emotional learning programs, what practical tools do we need?

Following inputs from the expert-led panels and table discussions on Day 3 of Getting Smart: Measuring and Evaluating Social and Emotional Skills, Fellows made the following proposals:

  • Create a SEL “micro-credential” for teachers;
  • Make use of online interactive experiences such as Second Life to offer more SEL opportunities in schools with fewer resources;
  • Establish a global community of learning and practice dedicated to SEL;
  • Develop performance tasks for primary and early years’ SEL skills development;
  • Create “good parent” badges and guides for parents to help them nurture their children’s SEL development in the home/outside of school;
  • Start SEL in early years education to increase the benefits in later years;
  • Better communicate the value of SEL programs to policymakers, teachers, and the global community.

 Download the newsletter from Day 3

The Salzburg Global Session Getting Smart: Measuring and Evaluating Social and Emotional Skills is part of the Salzburg Global series Education for Tomorrow's World, hosted partnership with ETS. More information on the session can be found here: You can follow the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag: #SGSedu

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