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October 2, 2017

More and more educators are acknowledging that true student “readiness”behavior requires this third domain of learning, beyond academic and technical skills, one that involves behaviors, mindsets and character traits. However, the challenge for most schools is; “How can we be intentional in this aspect of learner development - so every student develops these essential abilities?” and “How do we know if we are making progress in doing so?”

Employers use the term “soft skills” to describe the behaviors they expect of productive employees The often cited research conducted states that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills and people skills and 15% of job success is a result of technical skills and knowledge.

Recent studies such as Segal (2012) show that controlling for cognitive test scores and family characteristics, teachers’ ratings of 8th- grade students on non-cognitive abilities are better predictors of success. These Successful Practices Network prefers to use the term Life/Career abilities as a more positive education term compared to “soft skills” used in the workplace and non-cognitive used by education theorists. Life/Career encompasses the development of behaviors and work habits student should acquire through Career and Technical Education. There are many experiences in CTE instruction which contribute to developing these important behaviors. However, measurement of these Life/Career abilities is often tricky in traditional grading systems. Some of the research regarding Life/Career Abilities is described in three white papers on the CTE technical assistance Center website.

Following are five strategies for measuring Life/Career abilities in CTE programs.

Personal Profile

Within CTE programs, high schools or technical centers define the specific essential behaviors which desired for students. Build a rubric for each of these behaviors showing several levels of student development toward leading to proficiency in each of these behaviors. Introduce these behaviors to students at the beginning of the program as expectations for development. Meet the students periodically throughout the school year to chart their progress in developing a personal profile of Life/Career Abilities. Showing growth from beginning level to proficient level is an excellent way to measure and encourage student growth.

Examples of four level rubrics for student behaviors can be downloaded from the CTE Technical Assistance Center website.

Project Rubrics

Students complete many projects in CTE instruction and usually are evaluated with a rubric with several important characteristics on the quality of the work produced. Include within the rubric one or two measures of student behavior such as collaboration, creativity or perseverance which might be appropriate to that particular project. Consistently using these behavior rubrics in evaluating student work emphasizes the importance of developing these behaviors through the student work.

Employability Profile with Performance Scale

Most CTE programs include an employability profile which designates the technical skills students have acquired, but should also include the Life/Career abilities students have developed. It is important to show not just a checkmark or a statement that the students have developed those skills and behaviors but to show a level of proficiency in a performance scale which gives both the student and prospective employer a better idea of student strengths.

Separate Behavior Grade

Every teacher is aware how student behavior directly affects the quality of work. When a student shows poor behavior such as unsafe work, lack of teamwork, or failure to meet deadlines, there is a tendency to lower the grade given to a particular project because of those deficit behaviors. Likewise, there is sometimes an attempt to raise a student grade because of a student's exhibition of very positive behaviors. Effective grading practices stress that student work should be solely graded on the quality of that work not without adjusting a grade up or down afterward because of specific behaviors. A better practice for measuring and communicating to students the essential student behaviors is to have a separate grading system. Grading can be either a performance rubric or a narrative which describes positive student behaviors that students are developing over a period of time. Look for opportunities to have a separate grading system that is either part of the school-wide system or done within a particular program to give students feedback on the development of their behaviors.

Daily Work Habits Grade

While raising or lowering grades because of behaviors is not a recommended practice, teachers can use a routine practice in rating students daily work which can be factored into an overall grade. In this instance, the teacher would establish several specific behaviors that would be essential to demonstrate each day such as preparing adequately for work, attendance, safety, productivity, and collaboration. And students can get a score for demonstrating those proficiencies consistently. Teachers could then aggregate daily work habits score and factor that in as a weighted grade for an overall grade purposes.

These are only five examples of ways that teachers can measure soft skills in their CTE instruction. There are many other options and are only limited by the teacher's creativity in finding ways to set high expectations for student behaviors and to give students quantifiable feedback as to their growth in developing those behaviors throughout their CTE instruction.


Segal, C. (2012). Misbehavior, education, and labor market outcomes. Journal of the European Economic Association, 11, 743–779.

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