Student Experience Research Network Blog

An increasing number of practitioners and policy makers are interested in applying lessons from research on so-called “non-cognitive” factors (including learning mindsets) in schools and classrooms to improve student outcomes. As these ideas have gained traction, there has been growing interest in the measurement of these qualities for educational purposes, such as school accountability and assessing individual students.

In their paper, Measurement Matters: Assessing Personal Qualities Other than Cognitive Ability for Educational Purposes, Student Experience Research Network members Angela Duckworth and David Yeager urge caution among policy makers and practitioners eager to apply measures of students’ non-cognitive skills that were originally developed for research for purposes of educational assessment and evaluation.

“Measures developed for very good research purposes do not necessarily translate into… very important educational purposes,” said Yeager in the American Educational Research Association’s interview with the authors.

In the article, Duckworth and Yeager explain why widely-used measurement tools in non-cognitive research—questionnaires and performance tasks—should be evaluated cautiously for other uses in education. In particular, they contend that existing measures should not be used to rate individual students’ non-cognitive qualities, assess educators, or judge schools for purposes of accountability. “Our review says there is little or no scientific evidence that this should be done, and much evidence that this will be misleading,” said Yeager.

Instead of adopting these measures in their current form for such purposes, the authors suggest medium-term R&D investments “that may in the future make measures of these personal qualities more suitable for educational purposes.”

“We share this more expansive view of student competence and well-being, but we also believe that enthusiasm for these factors should be tempered with appreciation for the many limitations of currently available measures,” the authors wrote.

The article urges practitioners, policymakers, and funders to assess the limitations and advantages of the existing non-cognitive measures that were developed for research, and to make investments in R&D and training that could yield measures and measurement practices that would empower those seeking to cultivate these important qualities in students.

Duckworth and Yeager see particular promise in adapting existing non-cognitive measures for use by program evaluators and individual educators for purposes of instructional improvement. A research brief on the article issued by the Student Experience Research Network recommends that practitioners, researchers, program evaluators, and developers collaborate on five key tasks that could help unlock the potential of non-cognitive measures for these purposes:

  1. Optimizing existing questionnaires for purposes of practice improvement;
  2. Conducting R&D to generate better performance tasks for program evaluation;
  3. Integrating seamless measurement and reporting into popular online platforms used by educators;
  4. Developing a web-based non-cognitive measurement repository and reporting tool for educators; and,
  5. Increasing educators’ facility with practical measurement and the interpretation of data on non-cognitive measures so that educators can use this information to improve their classroom practice.

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