Ending the Testing Debate: New Report is Advancing the Case for Ways to Measure the Hard-to-Measure

By Lexi Barrett, Senior Director of National Education Policy at Jobs for the Future (JFF); and Stephanie Krauss, Director of Special Projects at JFF and CASEL CSI advisor


For those of us who have championed the importance of SEL and deeper learning for some time, we know the sticking points. One concern we hear a lot is, “social emotional and deeper learning skills may be important, but how do you measure them?” As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done. As we recover from the education era of standardization—marked by No Child Left Behind, remembered for its many standardized tests—we see this question for what it is. People want to know how you can measure these hard-to-measure skills, consistently across many kids and places.

We are both moms of young children. We consider ourselves experts in being able to tell when our children are demonstrating certain social emotional or deeper learning skills appropriately. Take cooperation and communication. We can watch our younger children play with their older siblings, and within moments tell you how well they are sharing their toys and communicating their needs. A standardized test could never do that.

As professionals, we understand this is the difference between performance assessments and those common standardized summative ones we took every few years in school. Performance assessments allow us to “test” skills and competencies best evaluated by task, activity and observation. By adopting high-quality performance assessments, districts and states can ease their over-reliance on standardized tests and balance their systems of assessment.

Pioneers in the similar fields of deeper learning and SEL have been designing and trying out performance assessments to find reliable ways of showing how a kid is doing in harder-to-measure skill areas. This has included the development of new measures for social emotional competencies like self-awareness and decision making, and a growing catalogue of “performance tasks” in deeper learning skills areas like problem solving or critical thinking skills. States and districts are increasingly adopting performance assessments as part of their accountability systems, and networks like CASEL’s Collaborating States Initiatives and the Hewlett-backed Assessment for Learning Project, are supporting those who want to move into this space more fully.

At JFF, we have watched this activity with great interest and anticipation. We saw the field needed a roadmap for using these new forms as assessments in a quality way. In response, we developed and released a new field-backed report, Ten Principles for Building a High-Quality System of Assessments. Ten Principles offers a comprehensive roadmap to improve current assessments and systems, by focusing on how we can measure—with reliability and validity—a learner’s academic proficiency, and their deeper learning and social emotional skills.

A record nineteen organizations and individuals became the first group of signatories to endorse the report. Together, these signatories share one common goal: to advance equity for all learners in college, career and civic readiness. Another round of signatories is already in the works and will be announced publicly in summer 2018.

Our work has never been more important. Today and in the near future, the top job skills employers need include complex problem solving, decision making, relationship skills, critical thinking, and self-awareness. What we now call deeper learning or social emotional skills, will one day just be known as employability skills. For today’s kids to be ready for tomorrow’s jobs, they must master these hard-to-measure skills and competencies.  

We hear from many experts who need formal and meaningful ways to teach and test for deeper learning and social emotional skills. They need data in real time, and evidence that students are improving with practice. No single test, nor single type of test, can serve this purpose. A growing body of research suggests we need a comprehensive system of assessments that give educators the information they need to improve instruction, while giving states the data they need to ensure quality and equity.

Given the demands of the knowledge-based economy, it is no longer an option to provide learners with instruction and assessment that just covers traditional content and learning. The future is fast approaching, and our kids need this now.

When watch our own children at home, playing and negotiating, we see skills that will need to be developed, strengthened, and recognized. We want to know our kids will have that chance, because we understand how critical these skills are for them as they grow up. We want them to graduate having mastered these competencies that count. States and districts must accelerate their adoption and evolution of a high-quality system of assessments for deeper learning and SEL. Once we accelerate adoption, we will truly be able to measure what matters and advance equity for all learners.

To become a signatory of the Ten Principles, visit http://deeperlearning4all.org/10-principles-building-high-quality-system-assessments/



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.

Posted in:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *