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Report: Noncognitive Skills Should be Taught, Evaluated in Schools

Teaching noncognitive skills in school—rather than leaving them to parents alone—should be an education policy focus moving forward, according to a recent report by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank focused on education issues.

Self-regulation, planning, and the ability to collaborate with peers are just a few of the student qualities research has shown lead to academic success. The idea that these skills can be actively taught is not brand new, but it has gained traction again in recent years as part of a backlash against the focus on assessing strictly academic content.

High-quality early-education programs are already doing this work, the report states, and policymakers would do well to pay attention.

"Yet, unlike prekindergarten programs, most K-12 public schools have not embraced a strong role, or in some cases any role, in trying to impart or support these skills," the report states.

The lack of focus on these "soft" skills in K-12 comes partly because they are not included in standards and partly because they are so hard to measure, the report suggests.

"In schools that have implemented strategies for developing certain skills for success, it is often difficult for outside observers, and even the schools themselves, to articulate their goals or to determine success in reaching them," the report states. "To some extent, this is because it may be difficult to measure students' SFS (skills for success), particularly in a standardized, non-time-intensive manner."

To change that, the New America Foundation report, published November 21, calls for state and federal policymakers to "promote a more holistic, comprehensive system of student assessments" that would measure a wider selection of skills. And since there is not yet a reliable way to teach such skills, let alone measure them, the report also recommends that policymakers provide funding for schools and districts to "experiment with different implementation models and assessments."

Read the full report on the New America Foundation's website.

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