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

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.

This paper reviews a variety of interventions targeted to different stages of the life cycle. We interpret all of the studies we examine within an economic model of skill development. While it is difficult to compare different interventions because they are often multifaceted and target different populations, nonetheless, four conclusions emerge: First, the evidence base is larger on the long-term effectiveness of interventions that start in early childhood and elementary school compared to their adolescent counter-parts; second, when evaluating skill enhancement programmes it is vital to consider outcomes other than IQ or achievement test scores; third, the available evidence suggests that the most successful adolescent remediation programmes are not as effective as the most successful early childhood and elementary school programmes, although adolescent mentoring and the provision of information can be very effective; fourth, adolescent remediation is possible for children who grow up in disadvantaged environments in their early years.

Tim Kautz, Mathematica Policy Research
James J. Heckman, The University of Chicago
Ron Diris, Research Centre of Public Economics, Leuven
Bas ter Weel, Maastricht University
Lex Borghans, Maastricht University
Publication Date: 
December, 2014
Publication Type: 
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development