In Education Next, researcher C. Kirabo Jackson explores the results of an important study that reveals that a teacher’s effects on student behavior are more predictive than their effects on test scores — and that the teachers who are most successful in raising test scores are not the same teachers who are most successful in improving student non-cognitive skills. Excerpts from the piece appear below:
Test scores are often the best available measure of student progress, but they do not capture every skill needed in adulthood. A growing research base shows that non-cognitive (or socio-emotional) skills like adaptability, motivation, and self-restraint are key determinants of adult outcomes. Therefore, if we want to identify good teachers, we ought to look at how teachers affect their students’ development across a range of skills—both academic and non-cognitive.
A robust data set on 9th-grade students in North Carolina allows me to do just that. First, I create a measure of non-cognitive skills based on students’ behavior in high school, such as suspensions and on-time grade progression. I then calculate effectiveness ratings based on teachers’ impacts on both test scores and non-cognitive skills and look for connections between the two. Finally, I explore the extent to which measuring teacher impacts on behavior allows us to better identify those truly excellent educators who have long-lasting effects on their students.
I find that, while teachers have notable effects on both test scores and non-cognitive skills, their impact on non-cognitive skills is 10 times more predictive of students’ longer-term success in high school than their impact on test scores. We cannot identify the teachers who matter most by using test-score impacts alone, because many teachers who raise test scores do not improve non-cognitive skills, and vice versa.
These results provide hard evidence that measuring teachers’ impact through their students’ test scores captures only a fraction of their overall effect on student success. To fully assess teacher performance, policymakers should consider measures of a broad range of student skills, classroom observations, and responsiveness to feedback alongside effectiveness ratings based on test scores.