Measuring what matters

October 20, 2016
Stephanie Carlson and Phil Zelazo

U of M professors Stephanie Carlson and Phil Zelazo know that executive function (EF) skills—the ability to control our thoughts, actions, and emotions—also allow us to pay attention, listen, and follow directions. And for kids just starting to learn, that’s incredibly important. Recent studies have shown these skills are more predictive of academic success than IQ, and that kids who don’t have them begin to falter immediately.

Carlson and Zelazo have developed a simple tool to assess these skills in children. And they’ve founded Reflection Sciences—a company driven to put this tool in the hands of caregivers and teachers.

“We have a real mission to reduce gaps and ensure all children’s access to opportunities,” says Carlson. Our focus now is on interventions for those kids most at risk.”

Reflection Sciences offers training in using the Minnesota Executive Function Scale—a reliable measure of EF based on the latest neuroscience. Delivered on touch-screen tablets, it takes less than five minutes to complete.

It’s a powerful way to identify kindergarten readiness as well as signs of such disorders as attention deficit or autism, where early diagnosis can make a world of difference.

“By putting tools in the hands of teachers, we are educating them about the development of executive function, too,” says Zelazo. “Teachers can then help children practice behaving in a goal-directed way.”

The tool seems to be catching on. In just a short time, Reflection Sciences has more than 40 clients in 12 states and the Netherlands, with more coming on every day.

Learn about similar work at the University of Minnesota to close the opportunity gap.