The image is a capture from the Assessment Work Group page of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). It’s the list of criteria for participation in the 2nd round of an Assessment Design Challenge that could, one imagines, yield a rich, primal soup of diverse new perspectives, ingredients, tools, and methods of engagement and assessment at school.

Unfortunately, the submission criteria suggest a foundational commitment to the currently malfunctioning education delivery paradigm.


For a decade, NCLB* forced the entire education community to behave as though 100% student academic proficiency were a reasonable idea. More than that, we were expected to embrace it as an objective worthy of universal dedication and sacrifice.

AYP** enforcement cannibalized thousands of publicly-funded learning communities that failed to demonstrate linear progress toward 100% proficiency by 2014. Schools across the country crumbled beneath the shame and blame of failing to keep pace with a goal that had been self-evidently unattainable from the outset. U.S. educators have practiced their craft for the last 20 years depleted by successions of fear-based compliance and accountability mandates.

But how many of us noticed that our educational productivity target (100% student proficiency by 2014) … the target that had served as the sole rationale for shutting down thousands of schools and chartering replacements … How many of us noticed that our 100% proficiency target quietly went away the year more than 70% of US schools were on track to be graded as failing to meet AYP? Since 100% proficiency was impossible, 100% failure to meet AYP was a looming certainty. After a decade as the omnipresent  grim reaper acronym, AYP mysteriously, and completely lost its currency in US edspeak overnight. The Obama administration discreetly shifted the goal of education to “continuous growth,” pointing to some promising research, and none of the people or entities responsible for all the school closings were subject to scrutiny or in any way held accountable to the public and the learning communities that were robbed of their dignity and purpose.

Recently, we have seen the slow, countervailing rise of organizations that are dedicated not only to talking about the social and emotional lives of children, but to pursuing understanding and meaningful improvement in this domain of schooling. Finally, credible educators and policymakers are championing the development of direct assessments of social/emotional health and growth, and studying practices that promise to reverse concerning trends.

Count me in. This is a conversation I want to be part of.

But it should go without saying: to give ourselves a rich universe of reform possibilities, and because we aren’t sure exactly what it is we’ve been getting wrong, everything we think we know about education has to be subject to being reimagined.


I couldn’t resist marking up the screen shot with a highler.

Accoording to the Assessment Design Challenge submission criteria, the judges will entertain only reform designs that can “feasibly and easily be used by entire districts with minimal intrusion on instructional time.” This is professing openness to any conceivable method of putting the soul back into schools without challenging the hegemony of the soul-sapping machinery of schooling.

The designs that will be rewarded by CASEL in this project are the most “demonstrably promising” interventions that can be implemented without disrupting the scientific management/hyper-productivity of school climate norms that evolved in the miserable decade when NCLB held sway. In that case, the real educational design challenge will remain unanswered:

What could meaningful assessment and accountability look like if we assume that academic content knowledge is only one of numerous domains of growth that we wish to foster in our kids?

We can try to compensate for the damage we did, pushing all our children through a narrow funnel, but we won’t serve their social and emotional growth until we have the courage to dismantle the system that, through its relentless and intensifying demands for measurable and prescribed content acquisition productivity gains, is universally stultifying our children’s integrated and self-regulated development.

Unfortunately, any meaningful innovations in education will require precisely what CASEL’s Design Challenge rules out: the disabling of the systems that were used to deliver last millennium’s “crash course in unsustainability” curriculum.


“The major advances in civilization are processes that all but wreck the societies in which they occur.” 

Alfred North Whitehead


* NCLB – No Child Left Behind: The 2000, George W. Bush-era law mandating, for the first time in US history, that all schools receiving federal funding administer annual tests, on which, by the year 2014, 100% of their students would demonstrate proficiency. States that didn’t create enforcement teeth for the law would lose federal education funding.)
* AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress: The NCLB-defined policy that required schools to demonstrate each year that their students’ test scores were, statistically speaking, on a  path toward 100% proficiency in 2014. Schools that failed to meet AYP targets were given F’s on “school report cards.” Schools that failed three years in a row were shuttered or underwent mandatory, supervised restructuring.

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