New Report: Supporting and Assessing Key Habits, Mindsets, and Skills in PreK-12

Grit, self-discipline, critical thinking: these and other terms are often thrown around in conversations about what students need to succeed in school, career, and in life more broadly. There is less discussion, though, of how teachers and schools can help build some of these habits, mindsets, and skills in students and almost no discussion about how to assess them. Why is this the case? And can schools really have an impact?

In a new report, Skills for Success: Supporting and Assessing Key Habits, Mindsets, and Skills in PreK-12, we highlight trends and raise important considerations for schools in supporting and assessing a more comprehensive set of student “skills for success”—and explore how assessments of these skills could be used to inform school improvement and accountability strategies.

While parents and communities can play an important role in helping children and adolescents develop skills for success, research shows formal educational experiences can too.

While parents and communities can play an important role in helping children and adolescents develop skills for success (SFS), the research shows formal educational experiences can too. High-quality pre-kindergarten programs for three- and four-year-olds already focus on bolstering some of these skills, but K-12 schools have not historically followed suit. But for several reasons, pre-K’s holistic approach to teaching and learning should not cease when students enter elementary school and later grades. First, the possession of some of these skills has been shown to benefit academic achievement. Second, certain skills for success are increasingly necessary for success in postsecondary and career settings. Finally, these kinds of skills continue to be malleable throughout young adulthood, and research shows that schools can impact them.

Skills for Success makes several recommendations for how various entities—federal and state governments, local educational agencies, educators, and research institutions—can foster progress on developing certain skills for success in schools, PreK–12.

Some of our recommendations focus on increasing the visibility of school policies and practices that can influence students’ skills for success and holding schools and educators accountable for improving areas that are lacking. To date, the evidence from K–12 SFS implementation indicates that if SFS and the practices that promote them are not monitored by outside stakeholders in some way, educators push them to the side to focus on those areas that accountability systems are based on. While the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law only holds schools responsible for students’ math and reading performance on state tests, under the Obama Administration’s optional waivers from NCLB, states were provided some flexibility to include additional measures in their school accountability systems. Some have argued that these additional measures should include assessments of other student skills and school conditions that impact skill and knowledge development.

Including areas that affect skills for success—such as classroom and school climate—in accountability systems in some way could encourage schools that are not currently making these areas a priority to do so.

We do not recommend a move away from holding schools and teachers accountable for students’ academic achievement. But including areas that affect skills for success—such as classroom and school climate—in accountability systems in some way could encourage schools that are not currently making these areas a priority to do so. Many questions still exist about how schools can best bolster student SFS, and how to assess their impact on these skills. However, high quality pre-K programs provide several examples of outside monitoring and accountability processes related to classroom and school climate that can help promote students’ skills for success.

The report highlights several evidence-based, common, and nascent approaches to developing and assessing certain skills for success in PreK-12 which can help inform policy and practice. However, policymakers should ensure that the mistakes of recent education reform history are not repeated by creating skills for success policy requirements without a clear focus on implementation, especially communication and supports. Whether school efforts to bolster students’ SFS are successful will depend on the willingness and ability of educators, and the communities in which they teach, to move this work forward. One critical part of developing educator and community excitement about SFS is to communicate the evidence for how these skills can help students succeed in school and in life more broadly. It’s also important for them to recognize SFS as a critical piece of the move toward college- and career-ready standards, not an add on. Above all, educators must be provided with the training necessary to use SFS strategies in their practice.

Click here to read the full report.

Authors:

Melissa Tooley is the director of Educator Quality with New America's Education Policy program. She is a member of the PreK-12 team, where she provides research and analysis on PreK-12 policies and practices that impact teaching quality and school leadership.

Laura Bornfreund is director of early & elementary education policy with the Education Policy program and co-director of the Family Centered Social Policy program at New America. She leads a team of writers and analysts working on new ideas for improving children’s birth-through-third grade learning experiences.