Schools are trying to measure students’ “social and emotional skills,” reports Kate Zernike in the New York Times. But how do you measure “joy” and “grit?” Nobody really knows.
SAN FRANCISCO — The fifth graders in Jade Cooney’s classroom compete against a kitchen timer during lessons to see how long they can sustain good behavior — raising hands, disagreeing respectfully and looking one another in the eye — without losing time to insults or side conversations.
As reward for minutes without misconduct, they win prizes like 20 seconds to kick their feet up on their desks or to play rock-paper-scissors.
And starting this year, their school and schools in eight other California districts will test students on how well they have learned the kind of skills like self-control and conscientiousness that the games aim to cultivate — ones that might be described as everything you should have learned in kindergarten but are still reading self-help books to master in middle age.
The newly revised federal education law “requires states to include at least one nonacademic measure in judging school performance,” notes Zernike. But advocates of teaching social-emotional skills “warn that the definitions are unclear and the tests faulty.”
“I do not think we should be doing this; it is a bad idea,” said Angela Duckworth, the Stanford psychologist who popularized the “growth mindset.” Her new book, out in May, is titled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
. . . Last spring, after attending a White House meeting on measuring social-emotional skills, she and a colleague wrote a paper warning that there were no reliable ways to do so. “Our working title was all measures suck, and they all suck in their own way,” she said.
A 2011 analysis of 213 school-based social-emotional skills programs found that they improved academic achievement, writes Zernike. The next year, Paul Tough extolled schools that teach “grit” in How Children Succeed: Grit Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.
Next year, the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress will include questions about students’ social-emotional skills.
Parents don’t want Uncle Sam to become Uncle Shrink, writes Robert Holland in Townhall.