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Social Skills Trump Test Scores

High-school Social Skills Predict Better Earnings Than Test Scores. A study from the University of Illinois, published in the September issue of Social Science Research, titled Do skills and behaviors in high school matter, challenges the idea that racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic gaps in educational attainment and earnings can be narrowed solely by emphasizing cognitive skills.

In conventional western education, there is a strong emphasis on a limited range of skills. The I.Q. is king, whereas emotional intelligence is not actively developed. As this study shows, a normally balanced child with good social skills has a better chance in life than a child with the same test scores, but without social skills.

“It's important to note that good schools do more than teach reading, writing, and math. They socialize students and provide the kinds of learning opportunities that help them to become good citizens and to be successful in the labor market,” said Christy Lleras, assistant professor of human and community development at the University of Illinois and author of the study.

“Unless we address the differences in school climates and curriculum that foster good work habits and other social skills, we're doing a huge disservice to low-income kids who may be entering the labor market right after high school, especially in our increasingly service-oriented economy,” Lleras added.

She cited responses to employer surveys that stress the need for workers who can get along well with each other and get along well with the public.

The study analyzed data on a group of 11,000 tenth graders for 10 years, tracking their scores on standard achievement tests, teacher appraisals of such qualities as the students' work habits, their ability to relate well to peers, and their participation in extracurricular activities, a proxy for the ability to interact well with both students and adults.

The teachers' assessments were then compared with the students' self-reported educational attainments and earnings 10 years after high-school graduation.

Even after controlling for students’ achievement test scores, family socioeconomic status, and educational attainment, Lleras found that such social skills as conscientiousness, cooperativeness, and motivation were as important as test scores for success in the workplace. Lleras also emphasized the importance of improving school quality.

“Low-income and racial minority students continue to be concentrated in lower-quality schools with fewer opportunities for extracurricular participation, larger class sizes, and lower teacher quality, all factors that are correlated with poorer school-related attitudes and behavior,” she said.

“If the few resources that low-performing schools have are used solely for testing and preparing students for tests, which is what many schools are doing to meet the requirements set forth in No Child Left Behind, these schools will continue to face challenges,” she said.

“My findings show that the most successful students are those who have not only high achievement test scores but also the kinds of social skills and behaviors that are highly rewarded by employers in the workplace,” she said.

High test results from school are needed to get into university or college, but good social skills are needed for the career.

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