It was a dynamite four days in Philly last week at the NAIS annual conference: although I was unsure how it would feel to be attending in a different capacity, not as a Head but in my new role of writer/consultant/presenter, it ended up very fun and engaging.   As always, the best parts are outside the formal conference in the camaraderie and fellowship found there with so many pursuing with parallel passion the meaningful and rewarding work of remaking learning for our fast-changing times.

The slides above come from a most fascinating session sharing what I’d argue is genuinely breakthrough work from the folks at the Index group on what they call their new Mission Skills Assessment, MSA, for Middle School Students.

(It was a big team presenting, including Lisa Pullman from Index, Tim Bazemore from New Canaan Country School (CT), Jennifer Phillips from Far Hills Country Day (NJ), and Rich Roberts from ETS; see the last slide for all their names and contact info)

As they explained, and as I often try my best to pursue here at 21k12, we have long as educators believed and proclaimed that character development, defined broadly, is of importance equal to that of intellectual and academic development, and yet truly, outside of the not-always-deeply successful advisory programming and a few assemblies here and there, how far do we usually go with this character education?

And, when students know that grades are the coin of the realm and that nearly all of the grades they earn and the feedback they get is on the academic-intellectual side, how well are we signaling to them the importance we place or guiding them with the feedback which is so important on the non-cognitive side of the equation?

Here with the MSA, the group has identified, after review of both the research of what makes for success out there, and of what our schools state in our missions we do in here, six key traits, and I love this list:

Teamwork, Creativity, Ethics, Resilience, Curiosity, Time Management. 

As the slides demonstrate, this has been an investigation carried out in the most serious of ways, spread out over five years and drawing upon the expert resources of and collaboration with ETS.  Their ETS partner, Rich Roberts, explained that as surprising as it might seem, ETS has been working on Noncog for over a decade, and indeed, the pursuit of noncog assessment which can match the quality of cognitive assessment goes back more than 60 years.

Roberts argued that the consensus view after decades of study is that noncog is not, no it is NOT, twice as important as cognitive skills and attributes for success in life– but it is EQUAL.

But assessing it has never been easy– this is the rub.  But, the research here conducted finds strong validity and reliability for a tripartite approach, as described in the image below, of student self-report, teacher evaluation, and a third tool for “triangulation.” NAIS and the Mission Skills Assessment from the Index Group   21k12

These third tools are discussed in slides 36-38, and include Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs), which were similarly touted at the Boalt Hall Law School study I described here, biographical studies, and Creativity Performance Tests.

For those that are skeptical that even with this triangulation we get to an effective measurement, check out the discussion of reliability and validity on slides 48-55, where reliability is found to be just a tad less than on the SAT and validity in prediction better than standardized test scores and GPA for student quality ratings and student well being and just a little less well than standardized test scores for GPA.

As for the inevitable question– whether and when this tool will become more broadly available, beyond the membership of the Index group, it appears as I view it that these questions have yet to be answered.   As soon as they are, I’ll do my best to report that news here.

But, there is no reason for schools outside of Index to not use these ideas and resources to advance their own work in assessing student development of these essential qualities.