By Sydney Owada
When reflecting upon the years spent in the rowdy, germy Petri-dish that was elementary school, one forgets to consider this period as one in which a child’s perception of social order transitions from a state of blissful ignorance to one of conscientiousness. We forget about this transition because it never truly happened (hence the continued existence of the self-help industry).
However, children are now unknowingly subjected to games whose underlying goal is to make kids embrace this transition. This is a consequence of “social-emotional skills” being applied to schools’ curricula as a result of an addition to federal education law: states must include at least one non academic focus in evaluating school performance. Of course, abstract and variable social-emotional skills seemed like the most logical aspect to test (as if the education system has not already established its affinity for flawed attempts at reform). Thus, behavior is being scrutinized along with academic performance in school evaluations.
On the surface, testing social-emotional skills may seem like a more official term for leveling the playing field of social awkwardness (many of us wish this would have been corrected at an early stage in life). However, this method of testing is instead used as a motivation to consider the development of a child as a whole rather than focusing chiefly on test scores. While concern for a child’s well-being may have good intentions, social skills prove difficult to test and evaluations themselves go against the aspiration to move away from the stress to test. Nevertheless, California school districts have managed to define four aspects to test: self-management, growth mindset, self-efficacy, and social awareness. Results from testing these measures will count for eight percent of a school’s total performance score (New York Times) and, thankfully, no teacher will be fired for failing to instill good behavior in students. Most schools undergoing social-emotional construction check progress through self-evaluations that ask questions such as “Did you do your homework?” or “Do you think you are a hard worker?” Evidently, these assessments are prone to deceit and bias, making it difficult to judge if there is a true change in mind-set or if the tests are simply providing incentive for the aping of desired outcomes.
Despite the difficulty as well negativity associated with social-emotional testing, the push for such a concentration is understandable. Building social-emotional skills such as self-efficacy and self-management can result in the rise of young adults who are better prepared for interactions within higher education and the workforce in general. For example, instilling the value of eye contact, organization, and respect for one’s peers at a young age will allow children to retain such skills as they grow and therefore be able to effectively apply these skills in situations such as academic seminars and job interviews. Thus, the ideal behind social-emotional testing is not entirely far-fetched, yet its methods as well as power remain questionable.