Character skill rivals IQ
rely an awful lot on achievement tests in our schools. They are used to sift
and sort people, to evaluate schools, and to assess the performance of entire
nations (PISA etc). But new research from the States finds that school
Achievement test scores predict only a small fraction of the variance in
example, adolescent achievement test scores only explain about 15% of the
variance in later-life earnings. It is unlikely that measurement error accounts
for most of the remaining variance. So, suggests the research, something very
fundamental is missing.
new paper ‘Fostering and Measuring Skills-Interventions that Improve
Character and Cognition from the National Bureau of Economic Research’
posits that achievement tests do not adequately capture character skills
such as conscientiousness perseverance, sociability, and curiosity,
which are obviously valued in the labour market, in school, and in many other
domains. It is known that employers, of course, favour technical and
practical skills , but they also value general communication
skills, social skills, used in, for example, in customer handing, and
teamwork skills. But they often complain that evidence of
these skills are in short supply, in pupils leaving schools.
Indeed, until recently, these skills and support for them in schools,
have largely been ignored.
in recent research economists and psychologists have constructed measures of
these skills and provide evidence that they are stable across situations and
predict meaningful life outcomes. In this study researchers use the term
character skills to describe the personal attributes not thought to be measured
by IQ tests or achievement tests. These attributes go by many names in the
literature, including soft skills, personality traits, non-cognitive skills,
non-cognitive abilities, character, and socio-emotional skills.
primarily measure character skills by using self-reported surveys or observer
reports. They have arrived at a relatively well-accepted taxonomy of character
skills called the Big Five, with the acronym OCEAN, which stands for: Openness
to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
proposition is that ‘Skills are not set in stone at birth. They can be
improved. Cognitive and character skills change with age and with instruction.
Interventions to improve skills are effective to different degrees for
different skills at different ages. Importantly, character skills are more
malleable at later ages.’ So, the clear message is, on the development of
character skills, that interventions really can and do help . Character
skills also predict later-life outcomes with the same, or greater, strength as
measures of cognition.
paper reviews the recent evidence from economics and personality psychology on
the predictive power of cognition and character and the best available evidence
on how to foster them. A growing body of empirical research shows that character
skills rival IQ in predicting educational attainment, labour market success,
health, and criminality.
paper says ‘Character is a skill not a trait. It can be enhanced, and there are
proven and effective ways to do so. Character is shaped by families and social
environments. At any age, character skills are stable across different tasks,
but performance on any task depends on multiple skills as well as the effort
expended on it. Effort, in turn, depends on the incentives offered to perform
the task. Since all measures of character and cognition are measures of
performance on some task, it is necessary to standardize for incentives,
effort, and other skills in measuring any particular character or cognitive
skill. Despite these difficulties, reliable measures of character have been
developed, although there is always room for improvement.’
stable at any age, skills are not set in stone over the life cycle. Both
cognitive and character skills can change. Parents, schools, and social
environments shape them, although there are important genetic in influences.
Skill development is a dynamic process. The early years are important in laying
the foundation for successful investment in the later years.’
there is hard evidence on the importance of the early years in shaping all
skills, some character skills are more malleable than cognitive skills at later
and Measuring Skills-Interventions that Improve Character and
Cognition- from the National Bureau of Economic Research’
James J. Heckman, Tim Kautz Working Paper 19656 http://www.nber.org/papers/w19656