Teacher quality and cognitive and non-cognitive factors

Northwestern University professor C. Kirabo Jackson’s new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study used data from North Carolina to evaluate a model that assessed teacher quality based on both cognitive (test scores) and non-cognitive (absences, suspensions, grades, and grade progression) factors. In “Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality: Evidence from 9th Grade Teachers in North Carolina,” Jackson concludes,

The model shows that one can use a variety of short run outcomes to construct a measure of student cognitive and non-cognitive ability and use this to estimate a teacher’s predicted effect on long run outcomes. Using longitudinal survey data, evidence indicates that non-cognitive ability (an index of non-test score socio-behavioral outcomes in 8th grade) is associated with sizable improvements in adult outcomes, and that noncognitive ability is at least as important a determinant of adult outcomes as cognitive ability.

Using administrative data with students linked to individual teachers, 9th grade English and Algebra teachers have economically meaningful effects on test scores, absences, suspensions, on time 10th grade enrollment, and grades. The results indicate that teachers have similarly sized effects on cognitive ability as they do on non-cognitive ability. A variety of additional tests suggest that these effects can be interpreted causally.

In other words, test scores are decent indicators of teacher quality, but the addition of non-cognitive factors provide a much more reliable measure.  Jackson’s study suggests that any teacher evaluation or performance pay model should consider both cognitive and non-cognitive factors.

Terry Stoops / Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies

Terry Stoops is the Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the Locke Foundation, he worked as the progra...

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