Skills for Success

Supporting and Assessing Key Habits, Mindsets, and Skills in PreK-12
Policy Paper
Nov. 21, 2014

It is widely acknowledged that parents and communities can play an important role in helping children and adolescents develop habits, mindsets, and skills that benefit multiple aspects of their lives--personal, academic, and professional. However, the research shows formal educational experiences can influence these “skills for success” as well. High-quality pre-kindergarten programs for three- and four-year-olds already focus on bolstering some of these skills, such as self-regulation, cooperation, and persistence. But K-12 schools have not historically followed suit.

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.

In a new report, Skills for Success: Supporting and Assessing Key Habits, Mindsets, and Skills in PreK-12, Melissa Tooley and Laura Bornfreund highlight trends and raise important considerations for schools in supporting and assessing a more comprehensive set of student “skills for success.”

Additionally, 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 the report’s 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. Tooley and Bornfreund 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. But 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.