Measuring Social and Emotional Learning
Social and emotional learning is about understanding who students are, not what they know. It’s internalizing an awareness that our biological systems are wired so that our emotions and interests drive our attention and, ultimately, our progress toward goals.
For chief executives, prioritizing SEL is a strategic issue. Effective implementation of SEL policies starts with the school district developing a clear and compelling vision for SEL that defines tangible outcomes the organization is striving to achieve. Measuring SEL is important as research has shown, to the point of being cliché, that organizationally “You are what you measure” and “What gets measured is what gets done.”
Measuring What Matters
From a measurement perspective, it is important to recognize schools can impact some SEL competencies through programming. However, there are components of SEL that, if measured, should not be conceptualized as a student outcome, but rather as a personalized context, providing a deeper understanding of the student to interpret student growth, success and opportunities. Understanding the difference is critical and reminds us of a bedrock principle of educational measurement, which is to align measurements to the activities designed to impact said measurements.
Districts have struggled to measure SEL effectively because many have focused on capturing personality traits and dispositions that are likely outside the impact zone of school-based programming. Moreover, schools can be more intentional with curriculum and learning opportunities that strengthen competencies by providing professional development that helps teachers to more directly address SEL within their curriculum.
While personality traits and dispositions such as grit are indeed important and have been shown to predict longer-term outcomes, focusing efforts on the more malleable competencies of SEL such as responsible decision making will likely provide a better return on investment in terms of school programming.
“Districts have struggled to measure SEL effectively
because many have focused on capturing
personality traits and dispositions that are likely outside
the impact zone of school-based programming.”
Only through a multiple-measures, whole-child measurement approach that recognizes SEL is both a personalized process and an outcome can SEL be assessed appropriately and in a manner that produces the evidence needed to ensure all students reach their full potential.
To maximize the benefits of SEL polices, schools must move SEL measurement beyond aggregate survey data and begin operationalizing SEL measurement at the individual student level. Personalized learner profiles provide an effective platform to report student progress across a wide range of outcomes and provide the context to interpret growth and success.
“By adding SEL data to our learner profiles alongside other academic indicators, we are able to personalize our student conversations by contextualizing academic outcome data with SEL data,” said John Bruesch, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning in Barrington, Ill. “This allows our educators to gradually move toward more meaningful questions about students, and we have seen a 300 percent increase in traffic to student learner profiles.”
This article was originally published in the October Issue of AASA’s School Administrator magazine.