Measurement Matters: Assessing Personal Qualities Other Than Cognitive Ability for Educational Purposes
 
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Educational Researcher

May 13, 2015


Angela L. Duckworth, University of Pennsylvania
David Scott Yeager, University of Texas

Abstract

There has been perennial interest in personal qualities other than cognitive ability that determine success, including self-control, grit, growth mind-set, and many others. Attempts to measure such qualities for the purposes of educational policy and practice, however, are more recent. In this article, we identify serious challenges to doing so. We first address confusion over terminology, including the descriptor noncognitive. We conclude that debate over the optimal name for this broad category of personal qualities obscures substantial agreement about the specific attributes worth measuring. Next, we discuss advantages and limitations of different measures. In particular, we compare self-report questionnaires, teacher-report questionnaires, and performance tasks, using self-control as an illustrative case study to make the general point that each approach is imperfect in its own way. Finally, we discuss how each measure’s imperfections can affect its suitability for program evaluation, accountability, individual diagnosis, and practice improvement. For example, we do not believe any available measure is suitable for between-school accountability judgments. In addition to urging caution among policymakers and practitioners, we highlight medium-term innovations that may make measures of these personal qualities more suitable for educational purposes.

 
 
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