A Bridge Too Far? Opportunities & Risks in Measuring Social, Emotional, & Cognitive Skills in Children

By Bibb Hubbard, Founder & President, Learning Heroes

Educators increasingly are working to integrate social, emotional, cognitive, and academic learning into schools and classrooms. Parents are vital partners in these efforts: a recent national survey of more than 2,000 parents and guardians with children in K-8 public schools found that they support schools reinforcing these important life skills. But as schools engage parents as partners, they should be mindful that there is a line parents don’t want crossed —assigning letter grades and ratings to individual children’s development of social skills and dispositions.

The nationally representative survey of parents’ views of social, emotional, cognitive, and academic learning was conducted this past summer by Learning Heroes, the nonprofit that I founded, which works to inform and equip parents to become partners and advocates in their children’s education.

The survey found that parents overwhelming trust teachers (76%) for information about their child’s development of the skills and traits parents prioritize most, including respect, communications, confidence, problem-solving, listening, and self-esteem, among others. Parents fully expect teachers to communicate regularly about their children’s behavior and are eager to partner up in supporting the development of these skills at home and at school. Six in 10 parents (60%) want “regular communication” from teachers about their child’s attitude, behaviors, and skill development, and more than half (54%) think “discussions” at parent-teacher conferences are helpful.

But parents are wary of formal assessments and other similar ratings of skills that many parents view as a bridge too far – too subjective and personal to measure. More than a third of parents worry about their child being labeled (35%) or graded (34%) on the development of these skills and traits and the potential implications for their child’s future opportunities. Only 16 percent indicate it would be helpful to get a separate grade on their child’s report card to understand their child’s progress on these skills.

Instead, parents want to hear from teachers about how their child is doing through parent-teacher conferences, folder notes, emails, and more regular communication, especially if there’s a problem.

This poses a dilemma for educators and researchers who are eager to develop better measures of social, emotional, and cognitive learning to know whether programs are working and for whom, and whether children are progressing. It also poses a dilemma for teachers, particularly at the secondary level, about how to provide the frequency and type of personal communications that parents value most, given the already considerable demands on their time.

We ask that educators look to parents for the solution —who, after all, view themselves as primarily responsible for their child’s in school success. What do parents look for in supportive learning environments? What matters most to them? Show parents real-world images and pictures of what practice looks like: our study found that parents respond well to short videos of daily classroom instruction. At the community level, continue working together to help parents know whether their own school and out-of-school settings are providing these types of powerfully enabling conditions for young people.  In education, while we often talk about measuring what matters, let’s take a measured approach when it comes to assessing life skills in children.


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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