Brooklyn school benefits from controversial social skills assessment

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A school in Brooklyn has reported a positive impact of the ever-growing controversial social skills assessment in New York City.

Educators and families were in wide agreement to the fact that students would need help adjusting socially and emotionally to being back in classrooms this year amid the COVID pandemic.

However, one of New York City’s plans to do that was quickly met with backlash. The said plan involved using a questionnaire called the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) in every school.

Educators who were already overwhelmed trying to meet the pandemic-era needs of students worried it was time-consuming. Also, they feared they couldn’t accurately answer the questions about students they hardly knew at the start of the year.

As such, concerned parents opted their children out.

A Brooklyn principal Kiri Soares confirmed that she struggled to figure out how her school could use the DESSA to help her students. She headed the Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women more than five years ago.

Now, the assessment is said to have been steeped in the school culture.

Soares and her counseling team say it has been an integral part of preparing students for success, both academically and outside the classroom. Though they claim it took time and resources to figure out how to shift the school’s culture to make the tool useful, raising questions about how easily other schools could replicate their model as classrooms continue to be rocked by the pandemic.

“It wasn’t smooth,” Soares said. “You can’t just roll assessments out there and expect them to be useful if you don’t have time and energy.”

Schools use a version of the screening tool which consists 43 questions that educators answer about their students’ social skills such as decision-making, self-awareness, and taking personal responsibility.

Social-emotional learning, or SEL, has recently gained traction across the country as an important part of what students should learn in school. Lately, the approach has become wrapped up in heated fights tied to social justice issues.

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