In the American Youth Policy Forum, Jennifer Brown Lerner writes a thoughtful piece about the terminology that the education sector is using to refer to ESSA’s fifth indicator, the “non-academic” indicator. The language in the legislation names student engagement; educator engagement; access to and completion of advanced coursework; postsecondary readiness; school climate and safety as possible categories from which non-academic measures might be selected, but it clearly specifies that states are not limited to these measures.
States are working hard to identify the measures they will use for the fifth indicator. But while states are converging on a few ideas, educators are all over the place in terms of what we call them.
Lerner outlines a few common terms. I have added my own to this list:
- Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
- Character Education
- Applied Knowledge
- Effective Relationships
- Workplace Skills
- Non-Cognitive Skills
- Soft Skills
- 21st Century Learning
- Deeper Learning
Lerner asks, “Are we all talking about the same thing?” What differentiates these concepts from one another?
While ESSA is clear on the inclusion of a non-academic indicator, it allows states the flexibility to choose whatever indicator and related measurement tool they best see fit. Hence I think it is time to pull out my “language police whistle” and here are just a few reasons I am blowing it:
- The possibility of what could be considered a non-academic indicator is quite broad, so let’s be clear about EXACTLY what we are talking about
- In defining a non-academic indicator, let’s use clear language and terms that can be linked to measurable skills
- If we are going to measure any of these skills, abilities, and dispositions as the non-academic indicator, then let’s make sure we actually can and should be measuring them effectively and for the purpose of school and district-level accountability.
As states are working to develop their accountability systems and many national organizations are offering their thoughts and assistance to states, I expect our conversations to continue, but I hope we’ll be more cognizant of our language and its use.