Kirabo Jackson Finds Non-Cognitive Skills Add to Teachers’ Impact

Kirabo Jackson Finds Non-Cognitive Skills Add to Teachers’ Impact

Kirabo Jackson

Many experts question the value of tests alone to assess a teacher’s impact. A new study by assistant professor Kirabo Jackson adds weight to that view by showing that teachers influence important non-cognitive skills linked to adult success. 

Jackson’s research is the first to show that teachers shape crucial behavioral skills, such as self-restraint and motivation, along with cognitive abilities. These non-cognitive skills help to shape a student’s later success in getting into college, earning income and avoiding criminal behavior, according to Jackson’s research. In fact, non-cognitive skills are even more important than cognitive skills in these areas — especially at low income levels.

“Variations in non-cognitive outcomes may be more determinant of adult outcomes than test scores,” states Jackson, an economist who specializes in education policy. His research was reported by the National Bureau of Economic Research, where he has been a faculty research fellow since 2009. This recent study was conducted with ninth-grade teachers in North Carolina. 

Jackson says, “Many of the most effective teachers will not be identified based on test score-based measures.” He estimates that a teacher’s impact may be almost three times larger than test scores predict. Such an estimate has extra meaning at a time when student test scores can determine teacher pay and retention.

A labor economist, Jackson studies education and social policy issues. His recent work analyzes the role of peer learning in teacher effectiveness and how student demographics directly affect the distribution of teacher quality across schools. He is also involved in a number of projects to understand when and why certain policies that reward teachers—or students—for student achievement improve student outcomes. Another research area involves the role of worker-firm “match quality” and its effects on worker productivity, including evidence that how well a teacher fits with a certain school can be as important as teacher quality for some outcomes. Jackson is also involved in ongoing projects studying the effects of attending single-sex schools in Trinidad and Tobago. 

View Kirabo Jackson's working paper here.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 10/1/13