Boosting Soft Skills is Better than Raising Test Scores

Writing for the Hechinger Report, Jill Barshay reviews a Chicago analysis that finds that schools that foster social-emotional development get better results for students. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

We hear the phrase “failing schools” a lot but what really defines a failing school? Generally, we look at test scores. Schools that aren’t getting students to improve their math and reading achievement on the standardized tests administered by each state are the ones singled out for shame, punishment and sometimes closure. That’s led to excessive test preparation – and even fraud – to boost scores.

Education researchers are trying to come up with different ways to measure success. One of them, economist Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern University, has zeroed in on soft skills, which include traits like empathy and perseverance, and found that if you were to set up a competition between schools that raise test scores and schools that foster soft skills, the soft skills schools would win.

In a large study of more than 150,000 students in all 133 of Chicago’s public high schools, Jackson has calculated that schools that build social-emotional qualities such as the ability to resolve conflicts and the motivation to work hard  are getting even better short-term and long-term results for students than schools that only boost test scores. The schools that develop soft skills produced students with higher grades, fewer absences and fewer disciplinary problems and arrests in high school. Later, the students who attended these high schools graduated and went to college in higher rates. 

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