From a Teacher’s Perspective

By Heather Schwartz, CASEL

A few months ago at CASEL we were discussing the Assessment Work Group. Before sharing my perspective on an issue, I found myself saying “I’m not an expert in assessment, but….”

And then it dawned on me: as a teacher, I know about assessment. I know a lot about it. It’s what we teachers do day in and day out.  It is the act of leaning in to our students to listen and observe.  It is how we understand their process for making meaning. For me, this is what SEL assessment should be all about, as well.

This realization reminded me of an experience I had in the classroom. Isabel was an extremely hard working student who came to my seventh-grade class labeled a “struggling reader.” Her scores on standardized tests put her a few years behind her peers. The data I received at the beginning of the year, broken out into standards, indicated that “finding the main idea” and “vocabulary” were challenging for her.

But as I sat with Isabel and asked her to read and answer questions with me, I learned something the assessments couldn’t tell me: Isabel was guessing. When I gently probed as to why this was, it became clear how anxious she was, anxious to perform and anxious to please.  That knowledge helped me reflect on how I framed challenges with her and think through the kinds of strategies I could present. It pushed me to be thoughtful about building a classroom community where learners felt safe, and where cooperation, not competition, was the norm.

The data I received from formal assessment was valuable, but it provided only part of the story. I had to learn the other part from Isabel herself. Only Isabel could help me understand her meta-cognitive process. In doing so, she was also taking steps towards owning her education. Through our interaction, we explored what was keeping her from learning. And then we talked about strategies to help her overcome those challenges. I was able to arm her with an academic strategy—learning root words—to address the challenge the formal assessment revealed, as well as the practice of taking a breath and checking her thinking to help build her capacity to learn.

To assess does not mean to test. It means literally “to sit beside.” It is the process by which students and teachers grapple with what a student knows and understands.  I think of assessment as a feedback loop that provides an incredible opportunity for both teachers and students. When a student struggles, I am receiving feedback about what that student needs so that I can adjust my strategies to meet them where they are. I hope that my feedback to students in turn can help them choose the academics strategies (in Isabel’s case, learn root words) and social and emotional strategies (take a breath before checking work) that will help them grow.

What the AWG has striven to create is very valuable to teachers. The Assessment Guide provides a wealth of information on how to select measure for different purposes, along with links to many high-quality assessments of SEL. But the information these assessments generate is the beginning, not the end, of the conversation. It’s only when we, as educators, make the space to discuss the data with students and hear their perspectives that we have the whole story.

As teachers and administrators think through what assessment of SEL will look like in their classrooms and schools, I hope they will take a holistic view. The Assessment Work Group can help teachers find great social and emotional competence assessments, but it is teachers themselves who have the power to make the assessments useful.  This requires social, emotional, and instructional skill. When we come to the table ready to sit beside our students and reflect on our own practices, assessment can be an opportunity to increase student independence and help us meet the needs of every learner.

We’d love to hear from you!

  • “How do we support teachers using data and their wisdom to help students develop social and emotional competencies?”
  • “What experiences have you had putting SEL data to use in your classroom?”


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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One Comment

  1. I like your idea that assessment is not testing but “to sit beside” and it’s important that we practitioners take time to be with students on the practice and hear students’ thoughts on the data from assessment so that we can turn the assessment into opportunities for students to grow in SEL & development. Especially, I look forward to learning the framework or evaluation tools that you’ve used to assess SE development, and what has surprised you about SEL development and the transformation process after the evaluation.

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