The Other Side of the Report Card: Assessing Students’ Social, Emotional, and Character Development


Maurice J. Elias, Joseph J. Ferrito & Dominic C. Moceri

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    The authors of The Other Side of the Report Card have written an important yet accessible book. It is steeped in the latest research in the fields of social and emotional learning (SEL) and character education (CE) and they make this research both accessible and actionable to the general reader and specialist alike. It will surely have a significant impact on building consensus for alignment in both of these fast-growing fields.

    Most important, this book addresses the most critical issue facing the fields today: assessment. The authors help us understand the central importance of SEL and CE both in motivating children to learn and also in educating them in skills and values that will matter to them throughout their lives. But they do more than stipulate to this importance; they show in practical ways how this importance can influence the essential area of assessment and reporting. By providing both examples of innovative “report cards” as well as step-by-step procedures for a school to create its own assessment process, the authors provide a detailed roadmap for creating new and innovative models of assessment that will align with the Common Core and give teachers and parents new and vital information on student development. This is an area that requires urgent attention if SEL and CE are to make a sustained and sustainable difference to teachers, students, and families, and this book will make a significant difference in driving that hope forward. Readers will come to understand what elements of SEL and CE can be assessed quantitatively and which are better left to more open-ended forms of reporting. They will be able to see how new strategies for assessment can be applied to local schools and districts.

    This book will go a long way to defining a new consensus on how to measure the things that matter most. There is hardly a more pressing issue in education today.

    Timothy P. Shriver, PhD,Cofounder of CASELMark T. Greenberg, PhD,Bennett Chair of Prevention Research, Penn State University


    Support for the creation of this Guide came in part from funding from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), through a grant from the NoVo Foundation.

    Foremost, we wish to acknowledge that our project was funded in part by a grant from CASEL, from a larger grant they received from the NoVo Foundation. In particular, Roger Weissberg, Mark Greenberg, and Paul Goren of CASEL lent immeasurable support at various points in the project. We also recognize our intellectual debts to those individuals who founded the fields of social-emotional and character development. They are too many to name, but we are clear that we stand on the shoulders of many visionaries and persistent advocates for promoting the well-being of children and an inspiring, supportive, safe school culture and climate.

    We also have some particular personal acknowledgments that we would like to make. We have been blessed with many supportive family members, colleagues, and friends who have influenced and encouraged our work. Joseph (JJ) would like to thank his mother, father, sister, and brother, who have continually served as role models, who broadened his perspective on himself and others. It is JJ’s hope that this form of growth will be promoted for all children through this Guide. Dominic would like to thank his wife, sister, mother, father, and grandparents for being strong supporters of his education and for always providing him with love and emotional support. Maurice would like to recognize the enduring influence and continuing presence of beloved mentors, Joe Zins, Irv Sigel, Tom Schuyler, Jackie Norris, Larry Leverett, Ed Dunkelblau, and Tim Shriver. He would also like to thank a large group of dedicated and talented undergraduate and graduate students at Rutgers who have been such marvelous collaborators on this and related projects, especially Jazmin Reyes, Gwyne White, Cesalie Stepney, Danielle Hatchimonji, and Arielle Linsky.

    Finally, we are grateful to our previously anonymous reviewers and to our Corwin editorial team for sharp insights, patient encouragement, and working in the spirit of continuous improvement in the interest of children.

    Publisher’s Acknowledgments

    Corwin would like to thank the following individuals for their editorial insight and guidance:

    Deborah Alexander

    Educational Consultant

    Tennessee Technological University

    Cookeville, TN

    Rose-Marie Botting

    Retired Elementary School Teacher

    Science Curriculum Specialist

    Tonia Guidry


    Golden Meadow Middle School

    Golden Meadow, LA

    Charles L. Lowery

    Assistant Professor of Educational Studies

    Ohio University

    Athens, OH

    Neil MacNeill

    Head Master

    Ellenbrook Independent Primary School

    Western Australia, Australia

    Laura Mahler

    Teacher, Educational Consultant

    Clarkston Community Schools

    Clarkston, MI

    Phyllis Ness

    K–5 Literacy Specialist and Subject Area Coordinator

    Clarkston Community Schools

    Clarkston, MI

    Pamela L. Opel

    Teacher, Intervention Specialist

    Gulfport School District

    Gulfport, MS

    Patricia Palmer

    Sixth-Grade Teacher, NBCT

    Wynford School

    Bucyrus, OH

    About the Authors

    Maurice J. Elias, PhD, is Professor, Psychology Department, Rutgers University, Director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, and Academic Director of The Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service at Rutgers. He is Past President of the Society for Community Research and Action/Division of Community Psychology (27) of APA and has received the Society for Community Research and Action Distinguished Contribution to Practice and Ethnic Minority Mentoring Awards, as well the Joseph E. Zins Memorial Senior Scholar Award for Social-Emotional Learning from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the John P. McGovern Medal from the American School Health Association, and the Sanford McDonnell Award for Lifetime Achievement in Character Education. 

    Prof. Elias lectures nationally and internationally to educators and parents about students’ emotional intelligence, school success, and social-emotional and character development.  Among Dr. Elias’s numerous books are the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s (ASCD’s) Promoting Social and Emotional Learning:  Guidelines for Educators, the Social Decision Making/Social Problem Solving curricula for Grades K–8, the new e-book, Emotionally Intelligent Parenting, and a book for young children: Talking Treasure:  Stories to Help Build Emotional Intelligence and Resilience in Young Children (, 2012).   He also writes a blog on SEL-related topics for the George Lucas Educational Foundation at

    With colleagues at the College of St. Elizabeth, he has developed an online credentialing program for Direct Instruction of Social-Emotional and Character Development (SECD) programs in classroom, small group, and after school settings (, and for School-Focused Leadership and Coordination of SECD and School Culture and Climate (

    Joseph J. Ferrito recently earned his doctoral degree from the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University. He is a native of Monroe Township, New Jersey and a graduate of Marist College where he majored in psychology. Clinically, Dr. Ferrito trained and worked across levels of care ranging from public schools and in-home services, to residential and inpatient treatment facilities. His clinical work has focused on children, adolescents, and families, particularly those who have been exposed to various traumatic experiences. He completed an APA-accredited internship at Sharp HealthCare in San Diego, California and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Audrey Hepburn Children’s House at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

    Throughout his graduate training, Ferrito taught several undergraduate courses and conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. Maurice J. Elias through the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Lab at Rutgers University. Developing feasible methods for assessing SEL and related skills in schools has been a focus of this research and this work has generated several publications in various forms. Ferrito hopes to continue this work and combine it with his interest in trauma and resiliency to enhance evidence-based methods of prevention and promotion on a national and international level.

    Dominic C. Moceri graduated with his PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. While at Rutgers, his research focused on quantifying the dissemination, implementation, sustainability, and scalability of evidence-based practices in schools and other settings. Moceri was co-principal investigator of the initial SEL Report Card Indicator studies, the foundation for this book. Additionally, he was the lead creator of the Schools Implementing Towards Sustainability (SITS) scale, a user-friendly and scalable measure of the system of sustainable implementation framework (Moceri et al., 2012). He received his M.S. in clinical psychology from Rutgers and his B.A. with honors in psychology from the University of Michigan.

    Dr. Moceri currently practices cognitive-behavioral therapy and conducts psychological assessments with children, adolescents, and adults in his home state of Michigan. He assesses and treats a wide variety of presenting problems, including anxiety, depression, inattention, hyperactivity, oppositionality, and rage attacks. He specializes in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, and tic disorders using exposure and response prevention and habit reversal training.


    Intelligence plus character,

    That is the goal of true education.

    — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


    Educating the mind without educating the heart is not education at all.

    — Aristotle

    To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to create a menace to society.

    — Theodore Roosevelt
    In This Section

    Utility: We provide a basic overview of the mission and purpose of this Guide.

    Key Takeaway and Reflection Points:

    • Educators have long been dedicated to the mission of promoting student success in school and life.
    • Student success stems from intellectual and academic prowess in combination with an array of behaviors described by SEL skills and character attributes.
    • These types of behaviors have long been recognized by educators as important, as is clear based on the long history of having behavioral feedback provided on the “the other side of the report card.”

    Educators in schools across the nation collectively interact with millions of students every day. Each student is on a trajectory that will shape and influence the type of citizen he or she will eventually become. After each school day of overflowing responsibilities and endless additional hours of planning, we spend our nights contemplating to what end our hard work is leading our students and how we can reach goals more efficiently. The current educational climate also raises questions about whether our focus on preparing students for academic tests is balanced with preparing them for the tests of life.

    Knowing that it is impossible to describe each student’s academic life fully, it is therefore desirable to provide the most essential feedback on student progress in school in a realistic way. Report cards are perhaps the most widely used method of feedback, with subject area grades long representing the top priority of schools: academic achievement. Historically, we also have had “the other side of the report card,” onto which we have recorded comments relevant to character, motivation, preparation, and more. The presence of these comments is a testament to educators who recognize the essential role of behavior in both achievement and student growth. The gifts of individual students, including their academic abilities, personality, character, and skills of relating and interacting, combine with complexity and emerge and develop inevitably in the school environment. It is intuitive as well as grounded in research that these skills relate to how a student functions both inside and outside of school.

    Our report cards frame essential, multiyear conversations between students and teachers, teachers and parents, and parents and students. Some of the most important of these conversations, particularly for parents and guardians who are not as closely attuned to schools’ academic rigors, revolve around “the other side of the report card.” We must ask ourselves if current comment systems address the behaviors most worth talking about, that is, those most essential to promote and best aligned with our ultimate goal of educating the future citizens of our society.

    The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has conducted systematic research through collaboration with a multitude of school districts throughout the nation to explore this exact question. Which behaviors are most essential for students to develop and display in order to best learn as they grow into young adults? Through this research, they have found that there are specific social-emotional skills composing five major areas that improve academic achievement, increase positive behaviors (e.g., attitude toward school), and decrease negative behaviors (e.g., bullying and truancy) (see Referred to as the CASEL 5, the skill areas are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.

    At the same time, Paul Tough, in his influential book How Children Succeed, reports on a parallel set of efforts to recognize that aspects of character—such as, responsibility, leadership, caring, and grit—also matter for student success in school and life. Conversations about character also have a place on “the other side of the report card” as they stem from one of the most universal questions parents have when they come into a school to meet with teachers: Is my son or daughter a “good child”? Parallel to the work of CASEL, has been at the forefront of other educational organizations focusing on the development of students’ character. Among the commonly agreed-upon dimensions of character strengths, drawn largely from the work cited by Tough, are grit, gratitude, responsibility, optimism, zest, and temperance (self-control). These dimensions also have been the focus of research illustrating their relevance to academic and life success (see the Resources section following Chapter 8 for research on social-emotional learning [SEL] and character).

    This Guide provides educators with the tools and guidance to adapt current report card comment systems to include aspects of social-emotional competencies and character development that they deem most important. The process of schools and/or districts deciding on the specific content and format of “the other side of the report card” is a powerful vehicle for creating greater cohesion and intentionality within school systems. It creates a connection with systematic efforts to build students’ social-emotional skills and character as well as opportunities for new and valuable conversations involving educators, students, and parents. Additionally, it fosters the conditions essential for academic success and college, career, and citizenship preparation.

  • Resource

    Utility: While it is beyond the scope of this Guide to provide comprehensive steps to improve student social-emotional and character competencies, there are resources that schools have used successfully to accomplish this goal. These are listed here, along with research specifically cited in this Guide.

    Our guidelines have emerged from research and the ongoing practice of many schools that have pursued and continue to pursue social-emotional competencies, character virtues, and a positive school culture and climate. We include below: (a) some sources that you can continue to check to see examples and to find potential collaborators or mentors, (b) key sources of updated information on research findings, and (c) books to provide background on SEL and character virtues and guidance for the implementation of SEL and character interventions in schools and districts.

    SEL and Character Examples and Collaborators
    State Standards With SEL and Character
    Books for Background on and Implementation of SEL and Character Development
    • Lessons From the Classroom by Hal Urban
    • Character Matters by Tom Lickona
    • You Can’t Teach Through a Rat by Marvin W. Berkowitz
    • Eight Habits of the Heart for Educators by Clifton Taulbert
    • Relationships + Rules + Routines = Results by Philip Vincent and Doug Grove
    • An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger
    • Building Academic Success on Social-Emotional Learning: What Does the Research Say? by Joe Zins and Colleagues
    • Emotionally Intelligent Parenting by Maurice Elias, Steven Tobias, and Brian Friedlander
    Implementation of SEL and Character Development
    • Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice edited by Joseph A. Durlak, Celene E. Domitrovich, Roger P. Weissberg, and Thomas P. Gullotta
    • Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators by Maurice Elias, Joe Zins, et al.
    • Building Learning Communities With Character by Bernard Novick, Jeffrey S. Kress, and Maurice Elias
    • Building an Intentional School Culture by Charles Elbot and David Fulton
    • The Educators’ Guide to Emotional Intelligence: Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom edited by Maurice Elias and Harriett Arnold
    • Transforming School Leadership and Management to Support Student Learning and Development: The Field Guide to Comer Schools in Action by Edward T. Joyner, Michael Ben-Avie, and James P. Comer
    • The School Leader’s Guide to Student Learning Supports: New Directions for Addressing Barriers to Learning by Howard S. Adelman and Linda Taylor
    • Smart and Good High Schools by Thomas Lickona and Matthew Davidson
    • Schools of Social-Emotional Competence and Character: Actions for School Leaders, Teachers, and School Support Professionals by Maurice Elias and Marvin Berkowitz


    Beland, K. (Ed.). (2003). Eleven principles sourcebook. Washington, DC: Character Education Partnership.
    Brown, P. M., Corrigan, M. W., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (Eds.). (2012). The handbook of prosocial education. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
    Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2003). Safe and sound: An education leader’s guide to evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs. Chicago, IL: Author.
    Dunkelblau, E. (2009). Social-emotional and character development: A laminated resource card for teachers, for students, for parents. Port Chester, NY: National Professional Resources.
    Durlak, J. A., Domitrovich, C., Weissberg, R. P., & Gullotta, T. P. (Eds.). (2015). Handbook of social and emotional learning (SEL): Research and practice. New York, NY: Guilford.
    Elias, M. J., & Arnold, H. A. (Eds.). (2006). The educator’s guide to emotional intelligence and academic achievement: Social-emotional learning in the classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
    Elias, M. J., & Berkowitz, M. (2016). Schools of social-emotional competence and character: Actions for school leaders, teachers, and school support professionals [Laminated resource card]. Port Chester, NY: National Professional Resources.
    Elias, M. J., Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Frey, K., Greenberg, M., Haynes, N., … Shriver, T. (1997). Promoting social and emotional learning: Guidelines for educators. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
    Friedman, S. J., & Frisbie, D. A. (1995). The influence of report cards on the validity of grades reported to parents. Educational & Psychological Measurement, 55, 526.
    Friedman, S. J., Valde, G. A., & Obermeyer, B. J. (1998). Computerized report card comment menus: Teacher use and teacher parent perceptions. Spectrum, 16, 3742.
    Kemp, S. N., Moceri, D. C., & Elias, M. J. (2015). Minority disproportionality in general education. (Journal article under review.)
    Moceri, D. C., & Elias, M. J. (2015). Grading the other side of the report card: How comments on an elementary school’s report card are connected to current and future academic performance. (Journal article under review.)
    Moceri, D. C., Elias, M. J., Fishman, D. B., Epstein, Y., & Selby, E. A. (2015). Social-emotional competencies and academic achievement in diverse high school youth. (Journal article under review.)
    Nucci, L., Narvaez, D., & Krettenauer, T. (Eds.). (2014). Handbook of moral and character education (
    2nd ed.
    ). New York, NY: Routledge.
    Payton, J., Weissberg, R. P., Durlak, J. A., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., Schellinger, K. B., & Pachan, M. (2008). The positive impact of social and emotional learning for kindergarten to eighth-grade students: Findings from three scientific reviews. Chicago, IL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.
    Tough, P. (2012). How students succeed: Grit, curiosity and the hidden power of character. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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