Soft Skills and Formal Assessment

Topic 1:  Types of Formal Assessments

A Formal assessment, pertaining to an exceptional population, may be commonly thought as an IQ test.  Depending how we view IQ tests, these tests can help predict how a student will cognitively perform in school. For example, in order to be considered academically gifted, a score of 130 is required on Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). Students having a score of 130 or more on the WISC generally have a high level of academic success. Conversely, children receiving a score below, 80 for example may learn at a slower rate and may not be able to master higher level concepts. Of course there are many factors that influence academic success.

The other types of frequently used tests in schools are achievement tests. Simply put, achievement tests give us information on how a student is achieving in the classroom compared other students in a number of measurable skills areas. We may compare by age, grade, or aptitude. For example, if a fifth grade student with an IQ of 130 has scored on a third grade level, there may be other factors that could interfere with his/her ability to learn. What are those factors?

“Current teachers are able to get a deeper and more granular understanding of who the individual is as well as the “hard” and “soft” skills and dispositions he has demonstrated.”  (Fontichiaro and Elkordy, 2015*)

We can look to educational psychology to explore additional factors that could possibly impact learning. Heckman & Kautz’s Hard Evidence of Soft Skills (University of Chicago, 2012) delve into “the important skills that achievement tests miss or mismeasure” (p.2). The authors assert, “Achievement tests do not adequately capture, soft skills— personality traits, goals, motivations, and preferences that are valued in school, and in many other domains. Children who are more academically motivated and more curious learn more and have higher test scores” (p. 2). In addition, Heckman and Kautz believe that, “Personality traits foster the development of cognition but not vice versa” (p. 37).

Let’s briefly summarizes these factors:

Achievement tests miss Soft Skills that are valued in work and life:

  • personality traits
  • goals
  • motivations
  • preferences

Soft Skills: 

  • predict success in school and life
  • are not well captured by measures of cognition
  • conscientiousness–tendency to be organized, responsible, hardworking
  • predicts educational attainment as strongly as cognitive ability measures (Heckman & Kautz, Labour Economics Volume 19, Issue 4, August 2012, pp 451-464)

In summary, the soft skills of conscientiousness, perseverance (persevering on tasks), sociability (extraversion, cooperation), and curiosity (openness to experience, imagination) are indicators found in student personality traits, goals, motivations, and preferences. It is valuable for us as IT professionals/educational technologists to be aware of the potential impact of soft skills on student achievement and on choosing ed tech/assistive technology (AT) in formal and informal assessment.  For example, the use of digital badges in K-12 and higher ed has the ability to “formalize” student soft skills: ISTE asserts,

Digital badges have the potential to be the effective and flexible tools teachers have long sought to guide, recognize, assess and spur learning. And they can recognize the soft skills [my emphasis] not captured by standardized tests, such as critical or innovative thinking, teamwork or effective communication” (p.2).