By Guest Blogger, Stacey Daraio, Temescal Associates
In a previous post, you wrote that there is a growing consensus that SEL and character building are important parts of a young person’s education and preparation for life and that this has resulted in a call for measurement and related tools.
This is reminiscent of the same call in the early 2000’s when youth development was gaining traction. We are asking the same set of questions about measurement as we did then.
What are realistic outcomes for SEL and character building and at what point do you measure them? SEL and character skills show themselves in a set of complex contextual situations and the skills are in development over time and will vary from situation to situation. An example is self-management. First, a situation needs to arise that calls for this skill. We do poorly on a test that we study hard for, we are treated in a manner that we don’t think is fair or equitable, we didn’t eat breakfast, etc. The situation provokes an emotional response in us. We have to learn how to manage through the emotion and understand the concrete steps we can take to regulate ourselves so that we can be in relationship to the hurt AND maintain our relationships with others.
This is a heavy lift, not just for young people, for adults as well. We may be able to work through the bad grade on the test, but we may lash out at being treated unfairly and yell, or throw something, or hit someone. Do we now say that we do not possess self-management skills because we are not able to use the skill consistently? Self-management, like the other SEL and character skills, is a skill that we continue to learn about throughout our lifetime and there are moments, even as adults, that we are unable to manage ourselves based on what is happening at the time.
What are realistic outcomes for SEL and character building and at what point do you measure them? We need to apply the lessons learned from over a decade ago. We know that we still want to improve the life chances of young people to:
• “Be economically self-sufficient — all youth should expect as adults to be able to support themselves and their families and have some discretionary resources. They should have a decent job and the education, or access to enough education to improve or change jobs.
• Be healthy and have good family and social relationships — young people should grow up to be physically and mentally healthy, be good caregivers for their children and have positive and dependable family and friendship networks.
• Contribute to their community — community contributions can come in many forms, but we hope that our young people will aim to do more than simply be tax-payers and law-abiders.” – Drs. Michelle Gambone and James Connell, The Community Action Framework for Youth Development.
The Framework goes on to ask and answer the question, “What are the necessary developmental accomplishments of youth needed to achieve the outcomes? And then, what are the critical developmental building blocks that need to be in place in all settings young people find themselves?” (See Youth Development Guide by CNYD.)
Using this model, the subject of measurement changes. Early on, we measure the setting to see if the critical building blocks are in place. When youth are between the ages of 15-17, they become the subject of measurement to ascertain the degree to which they have achieved their developmental outcomes, and we still assess to see if the building blocks are in place. Finally, as youth transition to adulthood, they are again the subject when we look to see if they have attained the long-term outcomes.
Similarly, the purpose of the measurement data changes. We use the data in the early stages for program and practice improvement. At later stages, we measure to assess whether our programs have delivered.
As we look at measurement of SEL and character today, it would serve us well to build on the lessons of the past.
Stacey Daraio, Co-Director, Temescal Associates, brings over 25 years of experience working in the field of youth development as a facilitator, trainer, and coach. She has experience working with diverse groups, from afterschool practitioners and parents to funders and technical assistance providers. Stacey has conducted numerous trainings and learning communities. Prior to her work with Temescal Associates, Stacey was the Deputy Director at the Community Network for Youth Development and a consultant for the Institute for Research and Reform in Education.
By Sam Piha
There is a growing consensus among educators and youth development experts that skills related to social emotional learning (SEL) are important to youth’s future success. We see this emphasized in the work promoting a positive school climate and the improvement of afterschool programs.
In fact, the California Department of Education – Expanded Learning Division (EXLD) has pulled together an ongoing SEL Planning Team. This Planning Team will offer recommendations on how best to integrate SEL into the System of Support for Expanded Learning, deepen SEL opportunities for students, and foster alignment around SEL strategies with the school day.
But how do we take into account cultural differences in framing SEL? Are SEL concepts culturally bound? We believe that these are important questions to explore.
In their support of California’s CORE Districts and the integration of SEL, the Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY) amended their work on SEL concepts.
According to Katie Brackenridge (Vice President of Programs at PCY), “Based on input from several large school districts, we are shifting our language, from stressing the ‘I’ to ‘We are, We belong, We can’. This is based on multiple conversations about a collectivist versus individualist world view and the reality that increasingly the kids in our schools are coming from countries and cultures that are more collectivist than the dominant white culture in the US.”
Below are two resources to explore these issues. How would you answer the questions around SEL and cultural differences?
– A brief video presentation, “The Limits and Possibilities of Social Emotional Learning” featuring Dr. Shawn Ginwright from San Francisco State University.
– An article entitled, Why Don’t Students Take Social-Emotional Learning Home? by Vicki Zakrzewski from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
By Sam Piha
There is a growing consensus that social emotional learning (SEL) and character building are important parts of a young person’s education and preparation for life. This has resulted in a call for measurement and related tools. There are a number of questions we have:
• Who or what is the subject of SEL measurement? Are they individual youth, the adult youth workers, or the program climate?
• What is the purpose of SEL measurement data? Is it program improvement or improved skills of individual youth over time?
In a recent commentary in EdWeek entitled, We Should Measure Students’ Noncognitive Skills, the author suggested that we should be measuring the skills of individual youth in order to identify those youth that have low SEL skills. We had some concerns about this approach, so we recently asked a number of experts to respond to our questions above. Below are some of their responses.
Q: Who or what is the subject of SEL measurement?
Corey Newhouse (Public Profit): As you know, I’m frequently concerned by the rush to youth-level outcomes in measurement, without consideration for the work that the adults need to do first. I therefore appreciate that you include prompts around setting and adult practice.
While we are ultimately interested in how youth participants benefit from a particular SEL-focused program or intervention, it is critical to first focus on the adult practice. Without assuring that adults are creating the kinds of experiences that we know help kids to build these skills, we can’t then look for evidence of changes in young people’s skills or mindsets.
Once we’re assured that adult practices have shifted, then we should look for evidence that kids are changing, too. Unfortunately, we’ve gotten in a bad habit of blaming kids for things that adult staff didn’t do. This is a good opportunity to change that.
Roger Weissberg (CASEL): For me, the answer is all three. There should be a theory of change that explains how the setting (climate) and staff practices enhance the development of which youth participants and in what ways.
Christina Russell (Policy Studies Associates): It’s important to first understand the practice and capacity of adult leaders: how do they implement programming that supports SEL development and character building for youth?
Observations of program implementation and collection of data about the capacity of adult leaders provides context to the program’s readiness to foster these skills in youth. Adult practice is closely connected to the climate and setting of the program; are youth in a strength-based environment that infuses SEL throughout the program and offers experiences in which youth collaborate, reflect, and think critically? With these structures in place, youth data can provide information to refine the skills targeted by the program, based on youth needs.
Dale Blyth (University of Minnesota): The subject depends on the purpose of the assessment but in my view we need data of all three types. We need to know where youth are on these SEL skills and attitudes so we can better plan and support effective strategies for growing these competencies. Such data used for improvement, not judgment, can also open discussions with the youth, parents and others. A key to remember with data on youth is not only confidentiality but making sure it is not used to blame youth for their lack of skills. SEL competencies need to be approached as strengths, not deficits, and need to be grown and built, not treated.
We need data about the dispositions and SEL competencies and teaching strategies of teachers. They are the key to improvement of students’ skills. Since SEL skills are more caught than taught and teachers are one of the people they catch them from, data that can support better understanding and improvement of teacher’s skills and attitudes are key. Building such data into teacher evaluation systems is too hot a political football to do well and not something I would recommend.
Finally, data on school climate is also critical for the purpose of understanding the broader environment in which students spend their time – whether school or out of school programs.
So for me, the issue is not about which is the subject of the data but how to use data from each in an integrated improvement-centered approach.
Q: What is the purpose of SEL measurement data?
Corey Newhouse: Ideally, we get a two-fer from measurement data. It can help staff members make data-informed changes to their practices, and demonstrate that young people are building the skills and mindsets we seek.
Measuring change is very, very tricky, however, especially since so many of the tools in this area are in development, and we don’t yet have a clear connection between specific program practices and specific skills and mindsets. For now, we tend to think of youth-focused measurements as a way to track the proportion of youth who are demonstrating the skills and mindsets we seek.
Roger Weissberg: I think it is important to improve program practices that will enhance students’ skills and behavior from pre to post to follow up. It is also helpful to know to measure kids’ competence levels at the start of the program so we can better understand which youth benefit – the kids with low skill levels, high skill levels, or all kids!
Christina Russell: A primary purpose of SEL and character-building data should be to inform program practice. Too often there is a disconnect between program implementation and desired outcomes: if a program goal is to help youth strengthen SEL skills, activities should explicitly address, reinforce, and provide opportunities to practice those skills. Data can be used to more clearly define priority skills for youth to develop, to identify professional development opportunities that build staff capacity to support those skills, and to design activities that are aligned to and that target the desired skills. Without a clear pathway from implementation to outcomes, it’s not appropriate to use data to hold program staff—or youth—accountable for improvements in SEL or character building competencies.
Dale Blyth: Measurement of key concepts and the effective use of data require clear purposes. It is where people who are thinking about gathering data or doing analysis should start and the answer may determine both whether and how to proceed. It is particularly important, in my view, to separate out universal efforts to improve these skills and attitudes from efforts to screen youth for services. The purpose behind the first is to build these strengths for all youth while the second is to identify youth who need extra services or interventions because of a lack of skills or the problems that result. While both purposes are honorable and can be appropriate, we too often slip into the second when we should be more focused on the former.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.