March 3, 2016

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Guest Blog Post: A Moment in Time: Ready to Be Counted

This guest blog post comes from Rebecca Arnold, of Transforming Education.

We are in a moment where practice, policy, and research have aligned to highlight the importance of developing and measuring students’ non-cognitive/social-emotional skills.  Survey data indicate that 88% of teachers are in schools that are working to develop students’ social-emotional skills. At the same time, under the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act, states must include at least one indicator of school quality or student success in their accountability and continuous improvement systems, which shows that the definition of student and school success has broadened.  Moreover, a compelling longitudinal research base now shows that non-cognitive/social-emotional skills are critical for students’ academic, career, and life outcomes.

Our organization, Transforming Education (TransformEd), supports educators and education systems to develop and measure students’ non-cognitive skills. In order to contribute to the knowledge base in the field regarding the impact of non-cognitive skills on academics, career, and life outcomes, we recently issued a paper entitled, Ready to be Counted: The Research Case for Education Policy Action on Non-Cognitive Skills.”  The paper synthesizes multiple longitudinal and well-controlled studies that have demonstrated that non-cognitive competencies in childhood are important predictors of long-term outcomes, including high school and college completion, employability, earnings, financial stability, avoidance of criminality, and physical and mental health.  In several cases, the data show that these non-cognitive skills matter as much as or even more than cognitive or academic skills in predicting positive life outcomes.  Below is a sample of the key findings in the paper, which are from the landmark Dunedin Study


  • Academics: Even at the first major milestone in academic attainment—completing high school—differences among Dunedin Study subjects were large. While about 95% of the top quintile in self-control earned a high school diploma, little more than half (58%) of those from the lowest quintile did so.
  • Career: The level of childhood self-control was also powerfully predictive of socioeconomic status, income, and financial stability in adulthood. For example, while 10% of the high-self-control group was categorized as “low income” (below ~$15,000 US per year) at age 32, more than three times as many (32%) of the low-self-control group had low incomes.
  • Well-being: Children in the lowest quintile of self-control were 2.5 times more likely (27% versus 11%) to suffer from multiple health problems by their 30s. Low self-control also strongly predicted recurrent depression and substance abuse. By age 32, almost half (43%) of those in the lowest quintile of self-control had been convicted of a crime, while barely more than one in 10 (13%) of those in the top quintile were convicted criminals.
Supporting Districts to Take Action on this Compelling Research


TransformEd is the lead strategic advisor on social-emotional learning to the CORE Districts – a group of school districts that serve more than one million students in 1,500 schools across California. Six of the CORE Districts chose to act on the research showing the importance of students’ social-emotional skills by systematically measuring these skills alongside academic outcomes and school climate/culture in their federally approved accountability and continuous improvement system. 

In partnership with the CORE Districts, TransformEd has administered common measures of four social-emotional competencies (growth mindset, self-management, self-efficacy, and social awareness) through a field test with nearly 500,000 students. The ultimate goal of this effort is to provide educators with the data they need to make informed choices in systematically adopting scalable, evidence-based approaches to develop students’ social-emotional competencies.  

The data from this field test shows that these skills are statistically significantly predictive of students’ GPA, test scores, attendance, and suspension rates.  We will be issuing a policy paper highlighting these findings in more detail in spring 2016, as well as releasing open source social-emotional measures, so follow us on Twitter (@Transforming_Ed) to ensure that you receive the announcements.

For more information


  • Read the full “Ready to Be Counted” paper to learn more about the impact of social-emotional skills.
  • Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, which curates social-emotional research, practice, and popular press articles. Check out our website, which includes resources for educators on strategies to develop students’ social-emotional skills.


Bridgeland, Bruce & Hariharan (2013) The Missing Piece: A National Teacher Survey on How Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower Children and Transform Schools. 

Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Poulton, R., Roberts, B. W., Ross, S., Sears, M. R., Thomson, W. M.,& Caspi, A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(7), 2693–2698.

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