School & District Management

IES Report Calls for Better Measures for Executive Function

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 19, 2016 1 min read
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Executive function is one of the hottest areas in education research. But a new federal report suggests educators need better ways to measure the effectiveness of the plethora of interventions being developed to improve it.

A new report by the Institute of Education Sciences suggests executive function—the collective term for cognitive abilities related to attention, focus, and self-control—is integral to children’s academic and social development throughout their school careers and beyond. And to at least some extent, research shows executive function can be improved.

But researchers at the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research cautioned that what we don’t know far exceeds what we do know about how executive function relates to learning, and how much interventions can boost those abilities.

The report comes in the same year the Federal Trade Commission announced multimillion-dollar settlements against Lumosity and other companies that improperly marketed so-called “brain training” interventions to boost executive function skills like working memory.

“Continued work on the longitudinal measurement of [executive function] is needed so that benchmarks will be available against which to gauge the relative effect of novel educational approaches,” the report states.

Future intervention research may highlight broader structural changes in schools that could improve students’ executive function, the authors noted. For example, “School schedules could be arranged to enhance both [executive function] and learning,” the researchers noted. “Topics such as math, which depend heavily on [executive function] skills, might usefully be scheduled for later in the day, not first thing in the morning.”


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.