Researchers Encourage Innovation and Expansion of Non-Cognitive Skill Measurement

In her recent essay “Measurement Matters” lead innovator in the field of grit and perseverance, Angela Duckworth, delivers some daunting words to policy makers and fellow researchers alike. Written in conjunction with David Scott Yeager, this duo of psychologists gracefully picks apart every practice of educational research known to the field. While acknowledging along the way that certain forms of research are better suited for particular needs, Duckworth and Yeager left no stone unturned in highlighting the flaws and shortcomings of the state of educational research. The core issue here, repeated time and time again by these authors, is the challenge of accurately quantifying what they titled “personal qualities” of a student. Beyond quantifying these non-cognitive qualities lay the even larger problem of how to measure the level of grit, self-control, social-awareness, and so on that a student possesses.

Nonetheless, the authors do not attempt to dissuade policy makers from trusting the validity of research in social-emotional learning. Nor do the two psychologists intend to suggest that practicing non-cognitive skill research via personal questionnaires, teacher response surveys, or performance task assessments fails to further the field. Quite the contrary, in truth, “Measurement Matters” directly challenges innovative and research minded organizations like BASB to push the limitations of research in our field. As policy makers, schools, and program developers alike develop a heightened appetite for trustworthy data on social-emotional learning, the dedicated research of BASB and our partners will only make the data and practice across the field more reliable. As Duckworth and Yeager wrote, “the field urgently requires much greater clarity about how well, at present it is able to count some of the things that count”.

In partnership with the National Institute on Out of School Time (NIOST) and their evidence based, Survey of Academic and Youth Outcomes for Teachers (SAYO-T) measurement tool, BASB is pushing the limit of what the field can meaningfully measure and how well we can do it. Anchoring these surveys in our Achieving, Connecting, Thriving (ACT) Skills Framework and focusing on the young people from across the city of Boston, once again solidifies our city at the forefront of youth development research.

Duckworth and Yeager cheerfully conclude their essay with a note of encouragement for the field: “our hope is that the broader educational community proceeds forward with both alacrity and caution, and with equal parts optimism and humility”.