Panel: Schooling and Character: Non-Cognitive Skills and Educational Outcomes

Saturday, November 8, 2014: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Galisteo (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Collin E. Hitt, University of Arkansas
Panel Chairs:  Daniel H. Bowen, Houston Education Research Consortium; Rice University
Discussants:  Martin West, Harvard University

When You Say Nothing at All: The Surprising Predictive Power of Student Effort on Surveys
Collin E. Hitt, Albert Cheng and Julie R. Trivitt, University of Arkansas

Effects of Age at School Entry on Child Cognitive and Behavioral Development
Darren Lubotsky1,2 and Robert Kaestner1,3, (1)University of Illinois, (2)University of Illinois, Chicago, (3)University of California, Riverside

The Intergenerational Transmission of Noncognitive Skills and Their Effect on Adult Education and Employment Outcomes
Gema Zamarro, University of Southern California and Ildefonso Mendez, University of Murcia

School systems across the globe now use standardized tests as an essential evaluation tool. Yet, emerging research in psychology and economics shows that test scores fail to capture some of the skills most important to educational attainment. Character traits or “non-cognitive” skills have a strong influence on educational attainment and other life outcomes. This panel presents novel research on how to measure such skills, a persistent challenge. Further, panelists present new research on the roles that schools and cultural norms play in forming these skills. The first paper examines a new proxy measure of conscientiousness, a non-cognitive skill that has been shown to be important to life outcomes in practically every developed economy. Questionnaires designed to measure conscientiousness (and related traits such as grit) have been plagued by various challenges, including reference group bias and language barriers. The authors propose that surveys (and standardized tests) can be viewed not just as tools to measure student knowledge and opinions, but as tests of student engagement and conscientiousness. Specifically the authors measure student effort on surveys by identifying incomplete, invalid and inconsistent answers. They demonstrate that these measures are predictive of later life outcomes in longitudinal studies, and propose ways to use this measure of student effort in a variety of contexts for education policy research. The second paper examines the roles that cultural heritage plays in development of non-cognitive skills. The authors combine international survey results with rich U.S. Census data to isolate the role that cultural values have on educational attainment. The authors show that the educational attainment of second-generation Americans is strongly influenced by the cultural values in their fathers’ countries of origin. A cultural emphasis on “hard work” plays a particularly important role, according to their analysis. The third and final paper examines the role that schools have on the acquisition of non-cognitive skills. Specifically, the authors exploit the fact that students in different states enter kindergarten with different cognitive and non-cognitive skill sets, due to state-by-state variation in kindergarten entry age policies. The authors find that schools “act to offset” the gaps in non-cognitive skills that develop during early childhood. Serving as chair and discussants are scholars who also work as practitioners in the development of new evaluation tools that will measure student growth in non-cognitive skills. The chair works as part of a research consortium in one of the nation’s largest urban school districts. The discussant is presently on leave from an academic post to serve as Senior Education Policy Advisor to the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Together, this panel presents a detailed and practical discussion of the importance of non-cognitive skills in education policy research. Historically, program evaluation and policy research has not adequately captured program impacts on student non-cognitive skills – thus missing contributions to students’ later success in life. The research presented on this panel advances the understanding of non-cognitive skills, their measurement and how they are shaped by schooling and cultural factors.
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