Promise and paradox: measuring students’ non-cognitive skills and the impact of schooling

Autor(es): Martin, Rebecca; Finn, Amy S.; Duckworth, Angela L.; Kraft, Matthew A.; West, Martin R.; Gabrieli, John D. E.; Gabrieli, Christopher F.O.

Date: 2014

Pages: 45 p.


The authors used self-report surveys to gather information on a broad set of non-cognitive skills from 1,368 8th-grade students attending Boston public schools and linked this information to administrative data on their demographics and test scores. At the student level, scales measuring conscientiousness, self-control, grit, and growth mindset are positively correlated with attendance, behavior, and test-score gains between 4th- and 8th-grade. Conscientiousness, self-control, and grit are unrelated to test-score gains at the school level, however, and students attending over-subscribed charter schools with higher average test-score gains score lower on these scales than do students attending district schools. Exploiting charter school admissions lotteries, the authors replicate previous findings indicating positive impacts of charter school attendance on math achievement but find negative impacts on these non-cognitive skills. They provide suggestive evidence that these paradoxical results are driven by reference bias, or the tendency for survey responses to be influenced by social context. The results therefore highlight the importance of improved measurement of non-cognitive skills in order to capitalize on their promise as a tool to inform education practice and policy.

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