Balanced Local Assessment Systems Include SEL Thinking

By: Rick Stiggins, Pearson Assessment Training Institute


Learning Sciences International has released a panel report detailing recommendations for the creation of local school district assessment systems designed to maximize student learning success by meeting the needs of all assessment users from the classroom to the boardroom. The report is coauthored by assessment experts Sue Brookhart, Dylan Wiliam, Jay McTighe, and me. Among the active ingredients in the systems we envision are the following:

  • Attention to a diversity of assessment purposes (users and uses)
  • Clear and appropriate learning targets, and
  • Appropriate levels of assessment literacy among those who develop and implement local systems.

Each of these offers an opening from which to see SEL as a key component of balanced local assessment systems.

Assessment is the process of gathering evidence of student learning to inform educational decisions. In the report, we build our system to meet the full variety of information needs of all who contribute to student learning success. This includes uses of assessment that support student learning (formative applications) and that judge its sufficiency (summative assessments). We reference these uses as they play out day-to-day in the classroom, on an interim basis throughout the year, and in annual assessments. We contend that each user and use of assessment across these levels makes a unique contribution to student success that other levels cannot make. So balance across levels is essential. To read the LSI full report go to:

But there is one level of assessment use in our vision that I believe is special because of its potential to benefit students in unprecedented ways. In the report, we begin our list of assessment users or educational decision makers in the classroom with teachers and students. We see teachers using classroom assessment formatively to support learning in ways other assessment users cannot. And, it is in the classroom assessment context where we can see students as assessment users (decision makers themselves acting in their own self-interest) who can impact their success in ways that even their teachers cannot. This is where we can see SEL thinking coming into play.

In our vision, teachers become assessment partners with their students during instruction in ways that encourage students to become the managers of their own learning. This is SEL thinking. In my work over the years, I have referred to this partnership as using “assessment FOR learning.” Teachers engage students in ongoing self-assessment as they grow and, in doing so, build within those students a sense of control over their own academic well-being. We seek to use the self-assessment process to develop within them a strong sense of academic self-efficacy, giving them the confidence to take the risk of trying to grow under any circumstances. We see this sense of self as the foundation of a lifelong learner; it has value as a human characteristic in its own right and in the classroom it provides a strong pathway to academic success. Again, I see this as SEL thinking.

The principles of assessment FOR learning ask teachers and school leaders to keep students consistently well-informed about the following:

  • Where am I headed in my learning?
  • Where am I now in relation to those expectations?
  • How can I close the gap between those two?

Make special note of where the locus of control over the learning success resides–in the learner. We advise teachers to keep it there by providing students with student-friendly versions of the targets from the very beginning of the learning, engaging students in ongoing self-assessment, providing students with continuous access to descriptive (not judgmental) feedback to support improvement, and helping students track, monitor, and communicate with others about changes in their own performance as they grow.

When I go into classrooms built on these practices, it is plainly evident as I interact with students. You can hear confidence and determination in spontaneous student talk, see it in their focused behavior, and, if asked questions about their sense of academic well-being, I can hear it in their answers. But more importantly, teachers see it in their rate of learning success. Their rate of achievement can skyrocket. Details on this research are included in our report.

Before closing, I want to address one more foundation of truly productive local assessment systems: assessment literacy of the faculty or their mastery of the basic principles of sound assessment practice. If assessment is the process of gathering evidence to inform instructional decisions, then the impact of those decisions will be determined, in part, by the quality of the information that informs them. Whether considered in the context of assessment of achievement or of SEL variables, the difference between sound and unsound assessment practices are clear to us. High-quality assessments arise from a clear sense of purpose, arise from and accurately reflect clear and appropriate learning targets, rely on proper assessment methods given the target, are built from sound assessment exercises and scoring schemes, minimize bias due to factors unrelated to the target in question, and deliver results into the hands of the intended user in a timely, understandable, and usable form. These standards of assessment quality must be met at all levels of productive local assessment systems.

For far too long, these foundations of assessment literacy have been missing from pre-service training for teachers and school leaders. Too often, resources have been unavailable for in-service professional development in classroom assessment. But not to worry! We have the very best darn multimillion-dollar annual accountability tests money can buy. This has left us out of balance for decades. These tests fail to inform the instructional decisions that really drive school quality at the classroom level. This is the primary reason for our advocacy of balanced local assessment systems; systems where we make sure everyone involved is a master of the basic principles of sound assessment development and instructional use–systems where assessment is a tool used to support social and emotional health and maximum learning success for ALL students. To learn more about these principles and their role in the SEL context, check out Classroom Assessment FOR Student Learning: Doing it right; Using it well.

Isn’t it time to move beyond the use of assessment for intimidation to assessment for learning?

Are these emotional dynamics really critical to the development of effective schools?


Contact Information: Rick Stiggins, Retired President, Assessment Training Institute,


Disclaimer: The Assessment Work Group is committed to enabling a rich dialogue on key issues in the field and seeking out diverse perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Assessment Work Group, CASEL or any of the organizations involved with the work group.

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