China: Advancing the Measurement and Development of Students' Non-Cognitive Skills

Prepared for
IESR Jinan University

 Mathematica is partnering with the Institute for Economic and Social Research (IESR) at Jinan University (Guangzhou, China) on three projects related to the measurement and development of various cognitive and noncognitive skills.

Chinese school children with teacher(1) The role of incentives in measuring cognitive and noncognitive skills. There is growing interest in measuring both cognitive skills, which are captured by achievement and IQ tests, and “noncognitive” skills (such as persistence, self-esteem, and self-control), which are important determinants of later-life outcomes but are not adequately captured by cognitive measures. One issue is that measures of both cognitive and noncognitive skills are potentially susceptible to incentives or other contextual confounds. Such confounds might lead to biased results when comparing students faced with different incentives or in different contexts. In this experiment, Mathematica and IESR will estimate the impact of monetary and nonmonetary incentives on performance on a math test and on a noncognitive skills assessment, using a sample of roughly 2,000 elementary school students from 19 schools in Shanghai. Mathematica’s role includes supporting the design of the experiment, analyzing the data, and contributing to the reporting.

(2) Measuring cognitive and noncognitive skill development in Mianzhu, China. This project involves designing and administering surveys in seven schools in Mianzhu, a relatively rural area of China. The surveys will include a variety of measures of family background, cognitive skills, and noncognitive skills. The data will be used to study how children from different backgrounds develop over time and how their skills build on each other. Mathematica’s role includes supporting the design of the survey, analyzing the data, and reporting.

(3) Interventions to support “left-behind” children. In China, many working-age adults are migrating from rural areas to urban areas in search of work. They often do not take their children with them, leaving them behind to live with friends, with relatives, or without care. There are roughly 60 million such left-behind children in China. Several studies have suggested that children who are left behind often develop emotional problems or struggle in school. Mathematica and IESR will study an intervention designed to help left-behind children communicate with their parents from afar by making phones easily accessible to the children.  Mathematica’s role includes supporting the design of the intervention and experiment, analyzing the data, and reporting.