Social and Emotional Development in Schools: The Effects of a One-Sided Report Card

Social and Emotional Development in Schools: The Effects of a One-Sided Report Card

Most current school report cards focus on academic achievement, ignoring social and emotional development, including self-control, perspective-taking, and conflict resolution skills. These traditional report cards measure a student’s achievement and progress in specific subjects covered in class, but today, educators are beginning to worry that students are not being prepared for the tests they will face outside of the classroom. The consequences of underdeveloped social and emotional skills are no less serious than facing a generation that is not taught how to read. The most effective education focuses on academic as well as social and emotional development to properly prepare a student to be successful both in school and in life.

How Do We Measure Social and Emotional Development?

Currently, there is no applied method of assessing a child’s social and emotional development on a national level. The ability to be productive, to problem solve, to connect with others, or to take criticism is difficult to measure by a letter grade. However, report cards usually include comments from a child’s teacher regarding behavior, motivation, participation, etc. This method is often time-consuming, biased, and unreliable.

Change Starts Now

Add SEL “Grades” to Report Cards

Some schools have taken affirmative action in making social and emotional learning (SEL) a part of their formal grading system. The George Lucas Educational Foundation, for example, has implemented a guide for educators explaining how to integrate SEL, as well as tips on how to communicate these scores both with parents and on paper. Similarly, the Character Lab offers a Character Growth Card. Further research on the validity of these approaches is needed.

If integrating SEL into the grading system is not currently an option, there are alternatives to consider. One possibility is to engage educators and students with social-emotional activities, in which they are presented with situations that assess their problem solving, stress levels, ability to seek help, social awareness, etc. This option also keeps teachers actively involved in SEL with their students.

Employ Executive Function Exercises

Another option is to engage students in executive function and self-regulation exercises. Students are not born with these skills, but they do possess the ability to learn to plan, multi-task, and focus. Encouraging EF development is highly dependent on both teachers and parents; they need to establish routines and set an example for model behavior and supportive relationships. Establishing these competencies in early childhood supports self-control, enables positive choices, and helps set the right course for SEL.


Assessing a student based on more than their ability to retain academic material is key to encouraging a well-rounded, productive, and successful future. For example, a student who is good at math but lacks the confidence to handle stressful or challenging situations is likely to face issues in his or her ability to be a team player, or handle larger workloads in the future. Such students may struggle at home, at work, or anywhere in between. This does not mean to say that we should do away with the letter-grading system entirely. Middle and high schools offer such varied curriculum that letter grades are necessary, and grade point averages are essential when applying to college. However, if we are adamant about adding SEL to the curriculum in our primary education system, we are building a foundation for students to be successful throughout their lives.

Leave a Reply