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The role of non-cognitive factors in Shaping School Performance

posted Mar 22, 2013, 9:36 AM by Waterville School   [ updated Mar 22, 2013, 9:38 AM ]

Over the past decade, American adolescents have dramatically increased their educational aspira-tions. Most high school students in the U.S. now say they expect to go to college. Whether in response to the needs of a 21

st century workforce, meeting the demands inherent in the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, or to simply aspire to provide the best possible education to American students, policymakers have attempted to ensure students’ qualifications for college by ratcheting up academic demands through more rigorous graduation requirements, increasing participation in advanced coursework (Launch Year legisla-tion) , and raising standards within courses (Common Core State Standards). Test-based accountability measures (SMARTER BALANCED), Measure of Student Progress (MSP), High School Proficiency Exams (HSPE ) and End of Course Exams (EOC) have been enacted with the intention of holding schools accountable for reaching these higher standards.

Is this enough to ensure student success, thereby reducing the numbers of students who dropout? In a 2012 study conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, entitled

Teaching Adolescents To Become Learn-ers: The Role of Non-cognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance: A Critical Literature Review, the authors challenge the belief that "students’ readiness for high school or college depends almost entirely on the mastery of content knowledge and academic skills through the courses they take."

The authors reported little rigorous evidence that those efforts to increase standards and require higher-level coursework, in and of them-selves, are likely to lead many more students completing high school and attain college degrees.

What this study has found was that what mattered most was how students did in their coursework— student course grades. This led the authors to review the research to answer why grades are such a great predictor of later success. They found that grades did not just reflect student knowledge, but also were a reflection of how a student demonstrated a broad range of academic behaviors, attitudes, and strategies, including

study skills, attendance, work habits, time management, help-seeking behaviors, metacognitive strategies, and social and academic problem-solving skills that equip students to successfully manage the new academic and social demands of a 21st century education workforce.

While many of these factors have not been unknown to the education and business communities, the degree to which such outcomes yield high payoffs in improved educational outcomes as well as reduced racial/ethnic and gender disparities in school performance and educational attainment supports the need for greater investment in the development of these skills, traits, strategies, and attitudes.

For example, there is a long history of research supporting the impact of an academic mindset (beliefs about oneself in relation to academic work) of a student. A student who believes he/she belongs in the academic community of the classroom, that his/her ability and competence will grow with effort, that he/she can succeed at this work, and that such work has value for him/her, will see increases in academic perseverance and improved academic behaviors leading to better performance as measured by higher grades.

The authors close this study with the following conclusion: "Teaching adolescents to become learners requires more than improving test scores; it means transforming classrooms into places alive with ideas that engage students’ natural curiosity and desire to learn in preparation for college, career, and meaningful adult lives. This requires schools to build not only students’ skills and knowledge, but also their sense of what is possible for themselves as they develop the strategies, behaviors, and attitudes that allow them to bring their aspirations to fruition."

This research informs us of the need to continue to advance measures that address the whole child. Literacy and numeracy, as well as work-place performance hinge not only on content skills, but also on how students effectively engage their school and work environments.

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