By Juliette Berg and David Osher, American Institutes for Research
There are a multitude of frameworks that identify, define, and describe social and emotional competencies. These competencies provide a critical foundation for healthy mental, emotional, and academic development and enable young people to engage with others and their environments, handle stress, and succeed in life. Many areas of study have produced social and emotional competency frameworks, but some have received more attention than others. What are key characteristics of these frameworks? Can systematically analyzing frameworks identify what competencies are most commonly identified and what competencies, although important for research, practice, and measurement, receive less attention?
In the American Institutes for Research’s recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded study, Identifying, Defining, and Measuring Social and Emotional Competencies, we begin to address these questions by identifying, tracking, and organizing 136 frameworks and their competencies across 14 areas of study, ranging from education and positive youth development to workforce development, juvenile justice, and public health, in order to look at alignment and misalignment between frameworks.
The study revealed some important information about existing frameworks and implications for research and practice. The study demonstrated two major strengths of existing frameworks: 1) many areas of study concern themselves with the development of social and emotional competencies; 2) there is a great deal of alignment in the competencies identified across areas. Limitations in existing frameworks contribute to a lack of specificity. These include a lack of specificity about target age and developmental sequencing and little empirical support for combining certain competencies into an organizing framework. Most frameworks are not well mapped to measures, making it more of a challenge to measure frameworks’ competencies in a valid and reliable way.
Our framework search also revealed that some competencies are either underrepresented in dominant frameworks or not well defined. Some of these competencies deal with cultural competence and coping with discrimination. Others deal with building connectedness to school and community, including building a sense of social responsibility. Twenty-seven frameworks emphasized competencies that are valuable for young people with disabilities or those who belong to specific cultural groups. Many of these valuable competencies demonstrate that diverse youth use their cultural assets to interact with a world where they are faced with unique challenges and unequal opportunities. But young people today interact with diverse individuals. All young people can benefit from having these competencies in their repertoire to aid them in navigating different environments and daily stresses; being better partners, colleagues, and citizens; avoiding self-serving and victim-blaming thinking; and being more humble and less judgmental of others. Building healthy, inclusive, supportive, and equitable school and other youth-serving systems, and promoting peace building in an increasingly divided world, may very well depend on adding some of these competencies to all young people’s toolkits.
We should consider incorporating at least some of these competencies into SEL-related programming, practice, and assessment to support equity, cultural competence, and inclusion in schools. We need to ensure that educators have access to measures of the competencies that they seek to support. Aligning conceptual frames with programs and practices that target the competencies in those frames and ensuring that measures are aligned with these targeted competencies is essential. This includes developing measures that capture aspects of schools at the intersection of school climate and social and emotional competence building, such as cultural competence and inclusion, for both students and adults.
What are the competencies that are most important for the health and well-being of all young people and the adults that support them in order to build supportive and equitable youth-serving systems?
Should these competencies be assessed and for what purpose?
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.