By Jessica Berlinski, Chief Impact Officer of Personalized Learning Games (PLG)

 Up until now, measuring the efficacy of your character programming has been challenging. Essentially, there’s been two ways to measure students’ character traits and social and emotional learning (SEL) skills: teacher observations and student surveys. As most of you are all too aware, teacher or counselor observations take a long time and can be arduous to fill out for each student. They also include the natural biases of the observer. Student surveys are subjective, challenging to administer, and, for younger students, largely not tenable – given the obvious literacy challenges of children in kindergarten through 2nd grade.

Enter game-based assessment. Last spring, the first video game to validly measure six character traits or SEL skills was launched in schools in across the country. The K-5 game, called Zoo U, assesses empathy, emotion regulation, impulse control, cooperation, communication and social initiation. Students play through a set of six short game-play scenes, after which a report is generated showing their percentile ranking against a national sample of their peers in each skill. 

In less than a year, the field of character and SEL assessment is quickly transforming due to this new method. Here are five reasons game-based assessment improves on traditional methods:

#1 Games are performance-based.

Character traits or SEL skills are more often about what students do with knowledge than the knowledge itself. For instance, students know shouting in the hallway is wrong, yet they don’t always speak quietly and respectfully. Performance-based assessment allows you to see what students do, not just what they know. By putting students in a simulated environment and watching how they respond to challenges in real time, you get a more accurate measure of their skills, particularly skills like impulse control and emotion regulation.

#2 The assessment is hidden to the student.

If students know they’re being assessed – either taking a survey or being observed – they’re not always likely to behave as they would in real life. In game-based assessment, students don’t know they’re taking a test. They also don’t feel like they’re taking a test, so naturally they don’t have the test anxiety that can often throw off results. The result is, again, a more accurate measure of character traits and SEL competencies.

#3 The assessment is formative.

You’ve likely heard of formative assessment but what does this mean and why is valuable to you? Formative game-based assessment gives you real-time data on your students in the form of immediate reports on their competency levels. This enables you to support your students in the moment, when and how they need it. You can also use this data to inform your instruction and plan forward, ensuring you’re meeting the specific needs of your class. 

#4 It’s easy.

Your responsibility in administering game-based assessment is solely giving each student a username and password. That’s it. From there, a tutorial takes over guiding students how to create their avatars and play through the 20-minute game. Minimal instruction and minimal oversight are required.

#5 Game-based assessment saves time.

In 20 minutes you can assess an entire class and by minute 21 have valid data on all of your students’ competencies. Enough said.

When thinking about your school’s character education program, have you or your administrator asked any of these questions over the last few years: Is our character program working? Are our students learning what we want them to be learning? Are some still struggling in specific areas? How can we best plan our lessons to support our students’ needs? If you have and you’ve felt frustrated by the answer or lack of answers, there’s a solution. Try game-based assessment. And let me know what you and your students think!


Eager to learn more about character & technology? Join us for the 2016 National Forum on Character Education to take part in important discussions on digital citizenship, as well as a variety of other topics!