Oregon beavers away on social-emotional learning

Reachy Reconnoiter

Committed to the value of social-emotional learning (SEL) for young people and determined to press the state’s public schools to give it greater emphasis, Oregon education policymakers resolved in 2015 to hold districts and schools accountable for gains in their SEL, and agreed to include two such indicators in the state’s ESSA plan.

The first, called “Creating Really Excellent Emotional Progress,” collects data by randomly photographing students’ faces with cameras mounted at various locations within the school. Expressions are then analyzed on a five-point scale, ranging from Bella Swan to Elle Woods. Schools rated at Katniss Everdeen or lower for two consecutive years are subject to clown interventions.

The second, dubbed “Social-Emotional Learning Found in Student Handiwork,” is based on careful analyses of drawings, paintings, sculptures, and other products of a school’s K–8 art classes. Work is examined by experts to see how often it is positively self-referential and self-congratulatory. The more, the better of course.

Systematic administration of the two measures increased the state’s assessment costs by just 82 percent. And Oregon officials are thrilled with the early results, which show SEL tripling in a single year. “At this rate,” declared Deputy State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mustang Bronchi, “Oregon’s outstanding public schools will boost their students’ social-emotional learning to unprecedented levels in 2018.”

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, reportedly hurt by everyone’s sharp criticism, enthusiastically signed off on Oregon’s ESSA plan and its use of social and emotional learning as a key indicator of school quality. But she did note that some peer reviewers raised concerns, including one who said that the two measures “conflated social and emotional learning with creepy and selfish behavior.”

Deputy Superintendent Bronchi is unmoved by such doubts. “We are determined,” he insisted, “that everyone in Oregon be socially conscious and emotionally balanced, not to mention happy all the time and very pleased with themselves.”