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Soft Skills Are the Latest Job of Schools

By Walt Gardner — October 07, 2016 1 min read

The accountability movement demands quantifiable results in designated subjects. If I read the tea leaves correctly, it won’t be long before noncognitive outcomes, which are often referred to as soft skills, will also be subject to measurement (“Soft Skills Give Workers a Big Edge. It’s Times to Start Focusing on Them in School, Report Says,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 5).

They include perseverance, adaptability, and conscientiousness, which a new report by the Hamilton Project says are increasingly in demand in today’s economy. They certainly are assets, but I don’t believe they are as important as cognitive skills. And if they are, they need to be taught at home and in elementary school when children are first socialized. By the time students grow up, their personalities are too well formed to be amenable to significant change.

Nevertheless, I expect to see attempts made going forward to measure soft skills. When I was working on my California teacher’s credential at UCLA in the mid-1960s, noncognitive outcomes were referred to as affective outcomes. These included attitudes, values, and interests. They could be determined through anonymous self-report inventories, such as the Likert inventories. These consisted of a series of statements to which students registered their agreement or disagreement.

These were better than nothing, but I always thought they were a rather artificial tool. I think teachers can get a better fix by closely observing their students throughout the entire semester as they engage in class discussion and other activities. They may not be as precise, but they are more authentic. Yet I emphasize that high school is too late in most cases.

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.