Education Opinion

K-12 Students Need Basic Skills

By Walt Gardner — June 15, 2015 1 min read
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At a time when many students are still not proficient in reading and math, talk about the importance of non-cognitive goals would seem to be totally out of place (“Nonacademic Skills Are Key To Success. But What Should We Call Them?” npr.org, May 28). Yet that is not quite true.

When I was working on my California teaching credential at UCLA in 1964, affective assessment targets were stressed. Although values and attitudes were harder to measure than cognitive outcomes, they were considered just as vital. The rationale was that long after subject matter was forgotten, the former remained.

There is much truth to that point of view. But I don’t think it can be used as a defense when students don’t learn the basics. For example, students often overestimate their ability in literacy and numeracy when, in fact, they are woefully deficient. They may feel good about themselves, but when they enter college or the workplace their deficits become apparent.

This disconnect does them a terrible disservice. It’s not that I want students to beat themselves up over their weaknesses, but I also don’t want them to be delusional. When I’ve been asked to look over a college freshman’s first essay, I’ve been taken aback by the low quality. Yet these students received grades of B or better when they were in high school.

Critics will maintain that “soft skills” deserve far more credit. Certainly the ability to persist in the face of failure and to work diligently rank high in predicting success in any endeavor. But without basic skills, they are not enough.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.