Testing children's social and emotional skills is a bad idea. These skills are crucial to school success and life long happiness - we've seen this through many research studies. But skills such as self and social awareness, managing emotions, developing empathy, forming positive relationships, and learning conflict resolution skills grow over time in children and from the inside out. They develop in children as the result of interactions with others in classrooms that foster these skills through the curriculum, relationships, and activities specifically designed to encourage social and emotional skill building.
Research shows that reward systems can influence social and emotional behavior, but the learning does not last once the rewards are removed. We want children to be kind and feel empathy for others even when the teacher isn’t looking or the promise of earning points isn’t there. Research has also shown that self reporting does not match up with actual behavior. Most importantly, we learn from moral development theory that the more we try to control children from the outside, the less they learn to regulate themselves from within.
Building skills for social and emotional awareness and skill should permeate every classroom and be encouraged in every child. It’s essential for their success in school and in life. But testing these skills will only undermine that vital goal.
-Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D.
DEY's Senior Adviser and Professor Emerita at Lesley University
It is helpful to have a sense of how much progress is made when social and emotional learning is taught in schools. However there are other creative ways besides testing to do that. For example, schools could use Portfolio Assessment to assess competence. Students could reflect and journal over time on how they approach certain conflict situations or how they strengthen certain relationships and discuss how they are using their learned SEL skills to do that. Progress in this area is best when assessment is used for the purpose of self improvement and differentiation of instruction.
- Linda Lantieri
Educator and Author of Building Emotional Intelligence
The challenge of assessing SEL skills in any affordable, feasible, large-scale way is that such assessments are — inevitably -- vulnerable to social desirability and social pressure influences. Those vulnerabilities become all the greater as the assessments become high stakes and as pressures mount on schools to "look good."
- Eric Schaps
Founder, Developmental Studies Center