May 15, 2015
Angela Duckworth and David Yeager Got it Right

Earlier this week Angela Duckworth and David Yeager published an important paper concerning the vital question of how to assess students’ mindsets and other non-cognitive competencies.

Over the last few years the Raikes Foundation has significantly increased our commitment to helping students develop learning mindsets and skills, so they are motivated to learn and know how to learn. We’ve done this because researchers have demonstrated that students who have developed these capacities have greater confidence in their ability to learn and persist when they face challenges. They see the value in the material they’re learning, believe that they belong and can succeed in the classroom—and that their hard work will pay off.

Given the importance of learning mindsets and skills, we believe developing accurate measures of them is important. As the Duckworth/Yeager paper notes, significant progress has been made refining how to best measure mindsets and other non-cognitive skills. Yet even the best current assessments have limitations that need to be addressed through investments in research and development and training so the measures and measurement practices can become much more uniform and reliable.

In the meantime, Duckworth and Yeager argue that existing measures should not be used to rate individual students’ non-cognitive qualities, assess educators or judge schools for purposes of accountability.

We emphatically agree with Duckworth and Yeager and we urge policymakers, education funders and school administrators to heed their warnings and refrain from using existing non-cognitive measures as the basis for high-stakes decisions such as what programs to fund or which teachers to hire or promote.

At the same time, the authors’ prudent cautions about how mindset measures are used should not be misconstrued as a reason to not collect measurements or to deemphasize mindsets and other non-cognitive aspects of education.

Rather, Duckworth and Yeager encourage further innovation in measurement development, including several promising approaches such as creating a suite of web-based, free, scalable “marshmallow test” tasks, or mining students’ online learning behavior or written communication in real time for meaningful patterns of behavior. With the right investments in research and development, Duckworth and Yeager suggest that personal measures could become valuable tools for purposes of program evaluation and educators’ improvement of classroom practices.

We strongly agree with Duckworth and Yeager on this point as well.  That is why we are pleased to support their on-going research, along with the work of 20 other leading scholars, as part of the newly formed Mindset Scholars Network hosted at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about our strategy and how we are working to promote awareness and development of learning mindsets and skills, please take a look at the education page of our website and send us a message if you have questions.