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Promise and paradox: Measuring students’ non-cognitive skills and the impact of schooling

We used self-report surveys to gather information on a broad set of non-cognitive skills from 1,368 eighth graders. At the student level, scales measuring conscientiousness, self-control, grit, and growth mindset are positively correlated with attendance, behavior, and test-score gains between fourth grade and eighth grade. Conscientiousness, self-control, and grit are unrelated to test-score gains at the school level, however, and students attending over-subscribed charter schools score lower on these scales than do students attending district schools. Exploiting admissions lotteries, we find positive impacts of charter school attendance on achievement and attendance but negative impacts on these non-cognitive skills. We provide suggestive evidence that these paradoxical results are driven by reference bias or the tendency for survey responses to be influenced by social context.