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Social-Emotional Outcomes Warrant Assessment

Despite the importance of non-cognitive outcomes, standardized tests to date have ignored them. Starting next year, however, the National Assessment of Educational Progress will include items about social-emotional skills, with PISA on the verge of following suit ("Testing for Joy and Grit? Schools Nationwide Push to Measure Students' Emotional Skills," The New York Times, Mar. 1).  The debate is whether schools can or should be held responsible for such skills, and whether it is possible to objectively measure them ("Don't Grade Schools on Grit," The New York Times, Mar. 27).

The impetus for the change is an update to federal education law requiring states to include at least one nonacademic measure in assessing school performance.  Social-emotional learning will count for eight percent of a school's overall performance score, but teachers will not lose their jobs for failure to produce evidence in that area.

When I was working on my California teaching credential in 1963, affective outcomes were stressed as being as important as cognitive ones in the long run. Although they were not measured on standardized tests at the time, we were taught about how to construct Likert inventories.  These were a series of statements to which students were asked to anonymously register their agreement or disagreement on a simple scale.  For example, students could indicate how likely they would be to persevere in reading a complex essay after having taken a literature class.

Given the obsession with hard data in today's accountability movement, however, I doubt Likert inventories created by teachers in any given school would be acceptable.  That's why I think including non-cognitive items on standardized tests is a step in the right direction.  There's no substitute for knowledge.  However, teaching a subject well but teaching students to hate the subject in the process is counterproductive.  Developing social-emotional wherewithal can help avoid that possibility.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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