Kindergarteners’ Skills Gaps Linked to Socioeconomic Status: A Economic Policy Institute white paper examines cognitive and non-cognitive skills gaps among kindergarteners. The researchers found that cognitive skills (such as reading) and non-cognitive skills (such as self-control) were least developed among students who had the lowest socioeconomic status. The researchers found that skills gaps among students of different races shrunk once socioeconomic status was taken into account. Accordingly, the researchers also found that when they compared students from different races with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, large cognitive skills gaps, such as in reading ability, were present only when comparing white and Hispanic English-language learners. Recommendations include analyzing data based on characteristics such as socioeconomic status and developing broader policies and strategies to address poverty in areas such as employment, health, and housing.
Relationship Between Soft Skills, Youth Workforce Outcomes Investigated: A Child Trends report looks at the relationship between “soft skills” and successful youth workforce outcomes. Soft skills are personal behaviors, qualities, or talents that allow youth to succeed. The authors found no consensus on which soft skills are most critical to workforce success as well as large variation in how specific skills are defined. According to the report, soft skills essential to workforce development include the capacity for higher-order thinking, effective communication, a positive sense of self, self-control, and social skills. The authors recommend conducting additional research on how soft skills specifically affect youth outcomes and how they might be better integrated into general and technical education.
Educators Believe Social-Emotional Learning Aids Student Achievement: Education Week Research Center releases a survey, conducted online, detailing the views of educators on the topic of social-emotional learning. The researchers define social-emotional learning as the process to control one’s emotions through improvements in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The survey found that only 14% of the self-selected respondents indicated a large portion of their student body had strong social and emotional skills.
Better Youth Employment Programs Linked to Partnerships: The Urban Institute brief details strategies for improving data collection and program assessment in youth employment initiatives. Youth employment programs typically offer work experience for out-of-school, out-of-work youths. According to the report, youth work experience is linked to better educational, employment, and salary outcomes, especially when training is coupled with professional and soft-skill development. The authors found the programs have trouble collecting quality data, especially on soft skills and the ability to communicate effectively or work on a team. They recommend establishing partnerships between training providers and employers to train individuals who supervise youth in employment programs, provide a measurement rubric to guide their assessment of soft-skill competencies, and focus on measuring skills they expect to improve.
States Increasingly Adopt More Rigorous Student Standards: A new Council of Chief State School Officers report details strategies to improve student assessment systems. The researchers found that increasingly, states are adopting more rigorous student standards. They recommend using strategies such as defining clear assessment goals, involving the community in developing the assessment system, gathering data on the assessments used at the state and local levels, and evaluating data to measure assessment quality.
Identifying English Learner Students with Disabilities Difficult: The Institute of Education Sciences issues a brief examining existing research and state policies on identifying and supporting English-learner (EL) students with learning disabilities. The authors found that identifying EL students with learning disabilities often is difficult because academic difficulties can be caused by learning disabilities, struggles with language acquisition, or a combination of both. They also found states have developed strategies to address identification and support issues, including developing clear policies on placing EL students in special education programs, providing testing accommodations, and creating guides to help educators identify EL students.
Increased Children’s Social Competence Improves Outcomes: The “American Journal of Public Health” study examines how teachers’ ratings of kindergarteners’ social competence can predict student outcomes. According to the study, social competence traits include sharing, cooperating, and problem-solving skills. The researchers found that kindergarteners who scored highly in social competence were more likely to attain a college degree and well-paying jobs; children with lower social competency were more likely to drop out of high school, be arrested, have substance abuse issues, and receive government assistance. The report was based on a 20-year study of more than 750 kindergarteners.
Social Service Programs Could Help Families With Financial Aid: The Urban Institute’s white paper looks at providing families with college financial aid information. The report focused on social services programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The authors recommend that information about college financial aid opportunities be provided when families apply for SNAP or Medicaid benefits or when they file income taxes. Additionally, information about college financial aid could be included in informational packets about other social service programs.
School Discipline Practices Found Ineffective at Increasing Safety: The National Association of State Boards of Education posts a report examining the evolving state of school discipline practices. School discipline is prevention or an intervention targeting school-wide, classroom, or individual student behaviors. Examples include: substance abuse, truancy, acts of defiance, disruption, cheating, bullying, harassment, and violence. The researchers found that strategies such as suspension, expulsion, and office referrals not only were ineffective at increasing school safety, they also disproportionately targeted students of color and those with disabilities. Recommendations include collecting and analyzing aggregated data of school discipline and assessing the effectiveness of existing school discipline practices. Additionally, training is recommended for law enforcement officials based in schools as is coordination among state agencies responsible for mental health, child welfare, and juvenile justice.
Professional Development Gets Low Marks on Helping Teacher Performance: The New Teacher Project report looked at teacher professional development systems. The report found that though schools invest time and resources into teacher development, teacher performance has not substantially improved as a result. The authors recommend crafting better working definitions for teacher development, evaluating the effectiveness of professional development activities, and reallocating funds to professional development activities based on their effect on performance.