Designing Tests to Measure Personal Attributes and Noncognitive Skills

Authored by: Patrick C. Kyllonen

Handbook of Test Development

Print publication date:  November  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415626019
eBook ISBN: 9780203102961
Adobe ISBN: 9781136242571


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In the past decade there has been an increasing interest in noncognitive skills, or what are sometimes called soft skills, character skills, social-emotional skills, self-management skills, psychosocial skills, behavioral skills, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, or 21st-century skills. The purpose of this chapter is to review why these factors are important for both education and the workplace, to review various construct frameworks for these factors and then to review a wide variety of methods for measuring them. Surveys have shown that higher education faculty value and seek out students with strong noncognitive skills as well as cognitive ones (e.g., Walpole, Burton, Kanyi & Jackenthal, 2002), and for good reason. Several meta-analyses of predictors of college performance (e.g., Casillas et al., 2012; Richardson, Abraham & Bond, 2012; Robbins et al., 2004; Robbins, Oh, Le & Button, 2009) have shown that a variety of noncognitive factors, such as effort regulation, achievement motivation, academic and performance self-efficacy and grade goal predicted both grades and persistence in college. This is true even after controlling for grade point average, standardized achievement test scores (e.g., SAT, ACT) and socioeconomic status, and in some cases the prediction is at a level comparable to the prediction given by these other scores. Burrus et al. (2013) developed a model of persistence in higher education that reflected these findings. Major test publishers have recently made available noncognitive behavioral assessments—ACT’s Engage and ETS’s SuccessNavigator—designed to identify students at risk academically and to boost retention rates. This all represents a new direction for student assessment in higher education.

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