Today, I would like to bring attention to the dangers of social-emotional learning assessment to a segment of our student population.
The focus on behavior is becoming the new purpose of school, and that alone should raise questions. School boards, PTA’s, and school organizations should be discussing how these curriculum changes impact what and how students learn.
Many children and teens exhibit a kind of learning disability where they misperceive social interactions. For students, such a disorder could mean that they react to SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) assessments in an inferior manner that type casts them as troubled students, when they are not, at least not in the usual sense.
Also, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) might misjudge test questions and not respond well, because social interactions are often challenging.
Students who fall into either of these categories could have personal data collected about them, based on these assessments, that unjustly cause difficulties later in life.
Social-emotional learning assessments collect behavioral data on children for outside stakeholders. Parents worry about privacy and how this information about students will be used. The FERPA law that was supposed to protect children’s information has weakened in recent years.
Cheri Kiesecker of the Missouri Education Watchdog blog provides samples of the tests in “Meet the New Equity Assessments: The Tests to Measure Student Social Emotional Learning.” She also discusses the questionable uses of the data.
In 1971, Janet Lerner described this disability as involving poor judgment in interpreting moods and attitudes of people. She provides an excellent example.
A 13-year-old gets rejected from a summer camp program because she fails the intake interview. When asked why she would be attending camp, she replies that her parents wanted to go to Europe and that was the only way to get rid of her.
Her socially adept 9-year-old brother answered the same question by saying “I want to go to camp because it’s healthy and I love the great outdoors.”
Nuance is what is often lacking when it comes to social disabilities. It can be just as confusing to the child, even frightening, as it can be irritating to the adults who don’t recognize that these reactions are typical of an underlying disorder.
The trend for social-emotional learning in school sounds, at first glance, to be potentially helpful to students with social disabilities or students with ASD. It identifies self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and responsible decision-making as important for children to work effectively and ethically.
But SEL is loosely defined in schools. It could be bullying prevention programs, mindfulness training, or something else. There seems to be a disconnect with assessment information collected on students and application in the classroom, aside from student grouping.
It is the SEL assessment involving data collection that is especially worrisome.
We know this testing demands social reactions that are aligned to character traits. The “gottcha” nature of the questions on such assessments have raised concerns.
Many parents worry about student “sorting” based on assessment results. Children are sorted into tiers, grouped according to their responses. This might draw negative attention to students.
SEL is also character education which has always been controversial. Collecting such information on any child is currently a concern.
How will this information affect students when they apply to college? Will the information be used to deny them a job for which they are well-qualified?
What good is this data?
Students need teachers in small group settings who will help them make better responses to day-to-day interactions.
Teachers and parents need to be more aware of the symptoms of social disabilities so they can actively assist students with better responses. They don’t need enormous amounts of personal information to do this.
Every child enters the classroom a wonderful, unique puzzle, a challenge for teachers to understand and teach. As teachers, parents, and students try to figure out how the pieces fit, it will take more than assessment.
Understanding the underlying difficulties presented by children with social disabilities means helping children to recognize cues and how to respond well to others in their day-to-day interactions.
There is hope if students get good assistance.
However, intentionally assessing children with tests that try to align everyone to someone’s idea of perfect behavior are best described as not only lacking individuality, but damn creepy. For children with social learning difficulties, such online data collection can be life ruining.
If a student is having social difficulties, demand a school psychological (not online) assessment, administered by a qualified school psychologist.
If the child is found to have a social disability, or if it is determined they are on the autistic spectrum, they would benefit from therapy to help them obtain better social skills.
Parents and the school psychologist should discuss results with teachers and significant school staff. A good teacher with a background in learning disabilities and/or autism will also be able to help.
With this kind of support and understanding the student will get the direction they need to successfully move forward.
Janet W. Lerner, Children with Learning Disabilities: Theories, Diagnosis, and Teaching Strategies. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971), p. 247.