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New & Noteworthy: September 2021

This month we are reading a new comparative study from OECD on the social and emotional skills of adolescents and teenagers; an Urban Institute analysis of equity of school attendance boundaries across the U.S.; a series of three reports on the future of testing in U.S. schools published by the Center for American Progress; and OECD’s interim economic outlook on the global pandemic recovery.

OECD released its first ever international comparative survey on the social and emotional skills of 10- and 15-year-old students. The OECD Survey on Social and Emotional Skills is based on data collected from students in 10 cities around the world. They were asked to self-report on 17 specific skills organized into five broad categories: task performance, emotional regulation, collaboration, open-mindedness, and engaging with others. The survey also collects information on students’ and their parent’s background characteristics, as well as on family, school, and community learning environment. Findings include that 10 year olds do better in most SEL categories than 15 year olds; creativity declines as students get older; and creativity and sociability are inversely related to academic performance. OECD is following up this report with a second survey cycle later this year.

A new report from the Urban Institute, Dividing Lines: Racially Unequal School Boundaries in U.S. Public School Systems, analyzes census and school attendance boundary map data, evaluating the boundary lines dividing attendance rights between every pair of neighboring public schools in U.S. metropolitan areas. The report identifies more than 2,000 pairs of neighboring public schools that are racially unequal, both in residential demographics and school enrollment. The lines that divide attendance rights are unequal not only in terms of racial and ethnic demographics but also school staffing, educational program offerings, student discipline rates, and average student achievement on standardized exams. The authors’ findings show that small changes to the attendance boundaries of neighboring schools in many cases could make a big difference for school integration.

The Center for American Progress has published a series of three reports about the future of testing in America’s schools and how to ensure that assessments are measuring student learning as intended. Part one discusses the role that assessments should play in creating an effective teaching and learning system. Part two reviews advancements in technology, with a focus on artificial intelligence that can powerfully drive learning in real time. And the third report looks at assessment designs that can improve large-scale standardized tests using three new approaches: matrix sampling to reduce testing time; regular “through-year” assessments, some of which could be aggregated into a summative score to eliminate spring testing; and the use of performance-based assessments.

Finally, OECD’s Economic Outlook Interim Report assesses the current global economy, concluding that economic growth has improved this year, helped by strong policy support, the deployment of effective vaccines and the resumption of many economic activities. Global GDP has now surpassed its pre-pandemic level, but output and employment gaps remain in many countries, particularly in emerging-market and developing economies where vaccination rates are low. Given that there is still much uncertainty in the near-term and the recovery is uneven across countries, the report suggests continued policy support is needed to ensure a complete global economic recovery.