“Sure, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) would be a great addition, but there’s no way to add it to the plate; our teachers already have their hands full with preparing students academically, and there’s no way our board will let us direct resources to anything that doesn’t raise test scores.”
For Jeneen Graham, Ed.D., Academic Dean of St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, California, it is the science that comes first when thinking about and selecting measurement and assessment systems. “Selecting ACT Tessera for our school had everything to do with my respect for its particular constructs; I was impressed that they were clearly aligned with the abundant research literature about what are indeed distinct and true human personality attributes. I love that the six ACT Tessera skills are based on the ‘big five’ personality traits, many of which are just the right ones for schools to focus on.”
The other thing that impresses her is that the ACT Tessera assessment system, unlike so many others, doesn’t rely exclusively on self-reporting. “Our school’s primary commitment and focus is growth over time, and we look for reliable data about how students are changing over the years in order to evaluate our success and theirs. Self-report systems, though, have too many limitations to work effectively longitudinally. Respondents in self-report system tend toward answering for social desirability: they know what we value and what are looking for, and each time they take a self-report survey they naturally tend to answer with what they know we want to hear.”
PeeDee Math, Science, and Technology Academy (PDMSTA) describes itself as a school that “implements a strategic educational program that teaches students through an innovative curriculum.”
When PDMSTA Director Keith Bailey recognized that the best strategy to strengthen student behavior, respect and responsibility was by doubling down on their social and emotional learning curriculum, he made the difficult but important decision to allocate his very limited personnel budget to this priority, staffing out a new Director of SEL position, occupied now by an experienced outdoor and experiential educator, Aimee Cox-King.
Then, at the ASCD Annual Conference, Keith set out to find an assessment system for his SEL initiatives. He was targeting a system that could inform their school-wide priorities, provide valid and reliable information about their individual students, and deliver them resources for enhancing SEL instruction and programming. He found and selected ProExam Tessera as his complete solution to meet those needs.
Tessera is not just an assessment and measurement instrument.
Tessera (pronounced tes-er-uh) is, in our vision and increasingly in our execution, a noncognitive skills and social-emotional competencies development system. In a nutshell, it encompasses a full social and emotional learning (SEL) program.
The graphic above provides insight into what we are building here, and demonstrates how, in addition to being circular, the system can begin at different points. To navigate it, consider the compass—north, south, and west are all good points to start with Tessera.
Upon joining Tessera, you and your school/district/program immediately begin receiving no-cost coaching (or you can opt for more comprehensive fee-based consulting) to determine how best to implement the Tessera system, how to map the six Tessera SEL competencies to your site’s high priority outcomes, and how to communicate to your constituencies the purposes and plans for Tessera in the future. We also assist, both before and after administering the assessment instrument, in providing presentations to your board, parents, or funders; leading trainings and PD services for your faculty with our team of expert SEL instructors; advising your leadership team in planning and monitoring SEL initiatives; and much more.
Snow doesn’t slow down Salt Lake City, and it certainly puts no damper on that school district’s commitment to social and emotional learning (SEL). Over the course of two snowy days last week, I visited several classrooms in a middle and high school, and met with a group of teachers who are teaching a fast-expanding course in social and emotional learning they are calling “Techniques for Tough Times” (TTT), coauthored by Leigh VandenAkker and Gayle Threet.
The teachers with whom I met (all of whom are using the Tessera SEL assessment system developed by ProExam as part of their program) made a great impression on my colleagues and me. They are deeply committed to this program; one of them, a former school counselor, enrolled in a graduate program and earned his master’s degree in teaching solely for the purpose of earning the qualification necessary to teach this particular course. They were connected with their students, innovative in their methods and reflective about their practice.
“Clamoring! My students were clamoring for their Tessera results. Immediately after they took the assessment they asked how soon they could get their results, and they bugged me frequently about when they would become available.”
So says Eve Rifkin, the Director of College Access at a high school serving a demographically representative student population in downtown Tucson, Arizona. She teaches a required and universal college and career readiness class to seniors every year, and this year is excited to be using Tessera as an important part of her program.
Why? Rifkin explains that students tell her that they were seeking the affirmation that positive results might provide them, affirmation of strengths they believe they have and will be pleased to see confirmed. But more than that, they are eager for feedback and greater self-awareness of who they are as persons, as opposed to how high they achieve in mathematics and reading. “This is such a contrast to what they are used to; this is about who they are as humans.”
Most readers are probably familiar with the fascinating curve ball the 2015 Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as ESSA, has thrown into state-level mandated accountability indices. In addition to a set of “substantially weighted” academic indicators, states are to add to them “at least one additional indicator of school quality or student success beyond test scores.”
Although we are presently in a moment of political uncertainty with regards to the future of all federal policy and legislation, there is some reason to think ESSA will stand as is: it was passed, after all, in legislation by the Republican-controlled House and Senate before being signed by a Democratic President.
Let us first applaud the inclusion of this additional indicator, what the media is usually labeling (though not entirely accurately) the “Non-academic Indicator” (NAI) or “Non-academic Factor” (NAF) to the mix. This is great news: we know today more than ever before how important it is to broaden our gauges of educational effectiveness.
Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license.
A whole child education demands a strong focus upon and increased accountability for social and emotional learning, it is argued in an important new report in the ASCD Policy Priorities newsletter entitled “A Bright Future with SEL:”
Decades of research argue that students need a balance of academic and social and emotional competencies for success in college, careers, and life.
Policymakers and practitioners are now discussing the best resources, tools, and supports for embedding SEL across pre-K–12 schooling.
The piece rightfully acknowledges that the facts on the ground—the recognition of the importance of social and emotional learning—are not new at all. However, they are coming into much greater prominence in the national conversation because of ESSA, the new federal law which “requires multiple measures for accountability, including at least one nonacademic indicator, generally understood to be an SEL measure, such as student engagement, educator engagement, and school climate and safety.”
Europe needs more and better social and emotional learning (SEL) and SEL assessment throughout its educational system. This is the conclusion of a recent OECD report, “Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social Emotional Skills.”
Elsewhere in this blog series we’ve laid out the demand for these measures in the US context, but today we look globally and to Europe more particularly, against the backdrop of the upcoming E-ATP conference in Lisbon where our colleagues Dr. Rich Roberts and Simmy Ziv-el will be making presentations related to noncognitive assessments.
Noncognitive skills are an ongoing hot topic in education, and for good reason—there is an extraordinary movement of renewed emphasis upon social and emotional learning (SEL), the kind of learning that research has well established is essential for all kids.
However, much is being missed in the national conversation about this subject. Researchers in university departments of psychology and educational assessment, as well as scientists at various measurement companies, have been industriously innovating, developing evidence-based systems by which we can effectively student character strengths and noncognitive skills. These new systems overcome the faking, subjectivity, and reference bias problems that plague “first generation” measurement methods.