What Do Test Scores Miss? Plenty Says New Study

What Do Test Scores Miss? Plenty Says New Study

Teacher with studentTest scores alone can’t identify the teachers who have the biggest impact on students, according to a new study by Northwestern University labor economist Kirabo Jackson.

In fact, Jackson’s research suggests that teachers’ ability to cultivate non-cognitive skills – traits such as adaptability, motivation, and self-restraint -- is a far better indicator of a student’s long-term success than their impact on standardized test scores, according to the study published online in the Journal of Political Economy.

“Teachers are more than educational-outcome machines – they are leaders who can guide students toward a purposeful adulthood,” Jackson wrote in EducationNext. “This analysis provided the first hard evidence that such contributions to student progress are both measurable and consequential.”

Jackson, a professor of human development and social policy at the School of Education and Social Policy and fellow at the Institute for Policy Research, used a robust data set on 9th-grade students in North Carolina to look broadly at how teachers affect students’ development across a range of both academic and non-cognitive skills.

After creating a way to measure so-called “soft skills” based on suspensions, timely grade promotions and other factors, Jackson rated teachers’ impacts on both test scores and behaviors and looked for connections between the two.

He found that teachers’ influence on non-cognitive skills was 10 times more predictive of students' long-term success in high school than their effect on standardized test scores.

While test scores have an important role in evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness, “to fully assess teacher performance, policymakers should consider measures of a broad range of student skills, classroom observations, and responsiveness to feedback alongside effectiveness ratings based on test scores,” Jackson wrote.

“We cannot identify the teachers who matter most by using test-score impacts alone, because many teachers who raise test scores do not improve non-cognitive skills, and vice versa,” he said.

Jackson’s study is titled, “What Do Test Scores Miss? The Importance of Teacher Effects on Non-Test Score Outcomes.”





By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/9/18