Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success

Tim Kautz, James J. Heckman, Ron Diris, Bas ter Weel, Lex Borghans
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Resource Type: 
This paper reviews the recent literature on measuring and fostering cognitive and non- cognitive skills. IQ tests and achievement tests do not adequately capture non- cognitive skills personality traits, goals, character, motivations, and preferences that are valued in the labour market, in school, and in many other domains. For many outcomes, their predictive power rivals or exceeds that of cognitive skills. Evidence from the General Educational Development (GED) testing programme in the United States shows the importance of non-cognitive skills. 
The GED is an achievement test which dropouts can take to certify that they are equivalent to secondary school graduates. The programme is based on the widely held belief that tests capture the important skills learned in school. On the surface, the programme is successful. Based on test scores, GED recipients are just as smart as high school graduates.  When it comes to outcomes that matter, such as college completion and labour market success, GED recipients perform much worse in the labour market and in a variety of other life domains than traditional secondary school graduates. Achievement tests like the GED do not adequately capture valuable non-cognitive skills. This evidence should cause policymakers to think twice about relying on achievement tests to evaluate the effectiveness of educational systems.


Workforce Development
Vocational Education