School Quality Improvement System
is a grit test?
is a grit test?
for Joy and Grit? Schools Nationwide Push to Measure
Students Emotional Skills
As reward for minutes without misconduct, they win prizes like 20 seconds to kick their feet up on their desks or to play rock-paper-scissors. And starting this year, their school and schools in eight other California districts will test students on how well they have learned the kind of skills like self-control and conscientiousness that the games aim to cultivate ones that might be described as everything you should have learned in kindergarten but are still reading self-help books to master in middle age.
A recent update to federal education law requires states to include at least one nonacademic measure in judging school performance. So other states are watching these districts as a potential model. But the race to test for so-called social-emotional skills has raised alarms even among the biggest proponents of teaching them, who warn that the definitions are unclear and the tests faulty.
I do not think we should be doing this; it is a bad idea, said Angela Duckworth, the MacArthur fellow who has done more than anyone to popularize social-emotional learning, making grit the title of her book to be released in May a buzzword in schools.
She resigned from the board of the group overseeing the California project, saying she could not support using the tests to evaluate school performance. Last spring, after attending a White House meeting on measuring social-emotional skills, she and a colleague wrote a paper warning that there were no reliable ways to do so. Our working title was all measures suck, and they all suck in their own way, she said.
And there is little agreement on what skills matter: Self-control? Empathy? Perseverance? Joy?
There are so many ways to do this wrong, said Camille A. Farrington, a researcher at the University of Chicago who is working with a network of schools across the country to measure the development of social-emotional skills. In education, we have a great track record of finding the wrong way to do stuff.
Schools began emphasizing social-emotional learning around 2011, after an analysis of 213 school-based programs teaching such skills found that they improved academic achievement by 11 percentile points. A book extolling efforts to teach social-emotional skills in schools such as the KIPP charter network and Riverdale Country School in New York, How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, appeared the next year.
Argument still rages about whether schools can or should emphasize these skills. Critics say the approach risks blaming the victim if only students had more resilience, they could rise above generational poverty and neglected schools and excuses uninspired teaching by telling students it is on them to develop zest, or enthusiasm. Groups that spent decades urging the country toward higher academic standards worry about returning to empty talk of self-esteem, accepting low achievement as long as students feel good.
But teaching social-emotional skills is often seen as a way to move away from a narrow focus on test scores, and to consider instead the whole child. It may seem contradictory, then, to test for those skills. In education, however, the adage is whats measured gets treasured; states give schools money to teach the subjects on which they will be judged.
Next year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test of students in grades four, eight and 12 that is often referred to as the nations report card, will include questions about students social-emotional skills. A well-known international test, PISA, is moving toward the same.
The biggest concern about testing for social-emotional skills is that it typically relies on surveys asking students to evaluate recent behaviors or mind-sets, like how many days they remembered their homework, or if they consider themselves hard workers. This makes the testing highly susceptible to fakery and subjectivity. In their paper published in May, Dr. Duckworth and David Yeager argued that even if students do not fake their answers, the tests provide incentive for superficial parroting rather than real changes in mind-set.
Quiz: How Much Grit Do You Have?
Heres a sample of the Grit Scale, developed to identify traits that might predict success.
You think test scores are easy to game? said Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who is working with the districts in California. Theyre relatively hard to game when you compare them to a self-report survey.
Students might be tested on performance, as in the marshmallow test, in which children were told they could have a sweeter reward if they waited. Those who waited scored higher in self-control. But those tests are too time-consuming to use on a large group of students.
Other researchers have proposed calling or texting students at regular intervals to check their behavior and frame of mind, or monitoring Facebook or Twitter to observe patterns of behavior. But privacy concerns would almost certainly disqualify those.
Transforming Education, a Boston-based group that is among the biggest proponents of teaching social-emotional skills, argues that they are so important that schools have to begin testing for them, even if perfect measures do not exist.
The group worked with the school districts here which count one million students, or 20 percent of the state total, in cities including Los Angeles and Oakland to choose four measures to evaluate: growth mind-set, social awareness, self-efficacy and self-management.
The districts tested 10,000 students in 2014, and nearly 500,000 students last year, surveying things like how many days the students had come to school prepared (self-management), and whether they believed it was more important to be talented or to work hard (growth mind-set).
Just two years ago in her classroom in a trailer here at Visitacion Valley Elementary School, Ms. Cooney struggled with the kind of management problems that often confront young teachers.
Her students, mostly poor and living in a nearby housing project, were bouncing around the classroom, playing with their phones instead of paying attention, fighting out interfamily beefs. Even if they wanted to learn, they were not.
Ms. Cooney, 27, took a two-hour training session in a student-behavior program and began playing good-behavior games. They look like regular lessons, except that they begin with students identifying goals for good behavior, and end with her assessing what went right and wrong.
On a recent day, students took notes on their reading as Ms. Cooney moved with a kind of Zen bustle around the classroom, grading papers and consulting one-on-one while she watched for things she would compliment the class on later keeping bodies still, focusing on the task and quietly noted bad behavior.
For every 1,000 minutes of good behavior earned, the children win 15 extra minutes of recess.
Im really saving minutes that would be lost to transitions, settling disputes and behavior problems, Ms. Cooney said. It can be exhausting, but not nearly as much as teaching before. As she said, Would you rather put out fires, or prevent them?
Social-emotional learning will count for 8 percent of a schools overall performance score; no teacher will lose a job for failing to instill a growth mind-set.
Noah Bookman, the chief accountability officer for the districts, said he understood the concerns about testing. But, he said, This work is so phenomenally important to the success of our kids in school and life. In some ways, we worry as much if not more about the possibility that these indicators remain on the back burner.
Correction: March 1, 2016
An article on Tuesday about a nationwide push to test the emotional skills of students misidentified a school in New York that is discussed in the book How Children Succeed, which extols the efforts to teach such skills. It is Riverdale Country School, not Horace Mann.
A version of this
article appears in print on Feb. 29, 2016, on Page A1 of the
New York edition with the headline: Testing for Grit?
Schools Pushed on Social Skills.
10-question quiz scientifically measures if you have a key
quality for success
Then you may have grit.
Psychologist Angela Duckworth has given a TED Talk, won a MacArthur "genius" Grant, and written a book on her research into grit, which she defines as "the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals."
Duckworth's research team at the University of Pennsylvania has found that people with a lot of grit can be very successful, and that it can be an even better predictor for achievements than IQ.
Grit can help you practice what you're passionate about even when it's hard and especially when it seems boring, Duckworth says in a video about her research.
Duckworth has developed a quick, 10-question online quiz (which we first heard about on NPR) that lets you get a grit score.
While it can be a useful prompt for thinking about your own grittiness, she says, there are a few things the test should not be used for.
"I think the Grit Scale can be used for research and for self-reflection," Duckworth says on her website, "but its limitations make it inappropriate for many other uses, including selecting employees, admitting students to college, gauging the performance of teachers, or comparing schools or countries to each other."
the test to
find out your grit score.
book upends everything we thought we knew about where grit
comes from and how to get it.
Teaching grit and other character qualities in schools took off: grit guides were developed in Pearland, Texas schools; teachers across the country built grit lesson plans. This fall, a handful of California school districts will test students on the skills, to meet new national education standards.
But teaching grit is tricky. Theres no evidence that any particular curriculum or textbook or app can effectively teach kids grit or self-control or curiosity, says Tough.
Its not an inherent trait, you cant give students a test and know if they have it, Tough said. Its a series of behaviors or habits.
When Tough examined how to actually impart these qualities for his follow-up book author of Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, research into neurobiology and motivation led him to conclude that teaching grit was not nearly enough.
Context matters, he argues. The key isnt the habit itself, but creating the environment needed for it to flourish.
What stress does to small brains
Kids need environments which are low on stress, and high on belonging, which can activate, or accelerate, motivation. If this sounds obvious, consider why it is so critical: When kids are exposed to moderate, or high levels of stress, the biology of their brains changes. They are less able to perform complex intellectual tasks and regulate their emotions. Working memory is impaired. As adults, they are at higher risk of cancer, heart disease and emphysema.
How parents react to this stress is critical, Tough writes:
Research has shown that when parents behave harshly or unpredictably especially at moments when their children are upset the children are less likely over time to develop the ability to manage strong emotions and more likely to respond ineffectively to stressful situations.
Early childhood is when establishing positive connections and minimizing bad events (scientifically dubbed adverse childhood experiences) matters most. Programs to coach parents in poverty, and encourage sensitive connections, are necessary because the effects of neglect, weak connections and trauma accumulate. When kids go to school, the disadvantages of early childhood multiply. An inability to self-regulate and manage stress at home becomes exponentially more challenging in a large-group setting predicated on getting everyone to hit certain academic targets.
Tough says schools have been designed around behaviorism, the principle that humans respond to rewards and punishments. But students respond far better to having agency.
Schools, sometimes by necessity, but often by design, do exactly the opposite of this. Kids who misbehave are suspended or punished; kids often have little say in the work they do. None of this fosters grit.
Tough highlights the work of Camille Farrington from the University of Chicago who found that kids could be gritty one day and not the next, or persevere in one class and bomb another. Students motivation, she found, is dependent on a variety of factors (100 page PDF). Kids need to believe the following things:
This framework shifts the debate. Teaching more grit, or incorporating character traits into assessments for funding goals, as is happening in California, wont do nearly enough. The key is not to change the information we impart (more grit, better self-regulation), but the way we impart it, changing how children feel about their school, their peers and the substance of the work they are asked to do. Says Tough:
The mechanical approach to childhoodespecially where low-income children are concernedis pervasive in our culture; it influences everything from early-childhood policies to discipline policies to the way we teach math and history.
Building environments to help kids feel more motivated, connected and challenged in school, will improve the odds of helping those kids succeed, he argues.
Tough highlights small ways in which this can be done. Stanford professor Geoffrey Cohen and Julio Garcia did an experiment on a group of of underachieving 7th graders at a suburban middle school in New England. The students had to write an essay describing a personal hero. Teachers corrected the essays with comments in the margin. Then the class was divided in two groups, with each group given the option to revise their papers. One group got a post-it note that said: Im giving you these comments so that youll have feedback on your paper and the other received a post-it that said: Im giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.
The key is not to change the information we impart (more grit, better self-regulation), but the way we impart it.
White students, who did not face any threat of being stereotyped, performed slightly better in the high expectations group. But the gap among black students was huge: 17% of those who received the standard post-it revised their work, compared with 72% of those who in the high expectations group. The authors theorized that right at the moment when a student might view a teachers comments as disapproval or bias, the Post-It note operated as a vote of confidence, reducing rather than elevating stress. That paved the way for those children to show some grit.
What parent and schools can do
Tough is primarily interested in how to help disadvantaged kids succeed. Its a fast-growing group: in 2013, 51% of US kids fell beneath the federal governments guidelines for being low-income. Low-income kids are exposed to more stress at home and in school, accelerating and magnifying disadvantages.
Fixing a childs home and school environment feels like a daunting diagnosis. And Tough is not the first to make it. But by focusing on the power of stress to impair the brain, and the roots of motivation, he upends the hope that one factorgrit, self-regulation, IQwill cure the myriad disadvantages low-income children face (Angela Duckworth, the worlds leading authority on grit, agrees on this point. Grit isnt everything. There are many other things a person needs in order to grow and flourish. Character is plural, she writes in her new book on the subject).
In 2013, 51% of US kids fell beneath the federal governments guidelines for being low-income.
Tough points to programs which show remarkable results, including one 10-week coaching program called ABC, or Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up. Through a series of home visits, professional coaches help parents establish and foster positive connectionsbig and smallwith their children. Studies show that children in these programs show better self-regulation, attachment, and substantially lower cortisol or stress levels.
Schools need to promote belonging as well as deeper and more meaningful learningsomething he says is happening in spades in private schools. For example, students at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx can take City Semester, an experiential, project-based class that integrates history, English, ethics, languages and science.
Combine those with small things, and maybe there is hope, he say:
The tone of a
parents voice. The words a teacher writes on a Post-it
note. The way a math class is organized. The extra time that
a mentor or a coach takes to listen to a child facing a
challenge. Those personal actions can create powerful
changes, and those individual changes can resonate on a
kids for grit is a big mistake, says the
worlds foremost authority on it
Changes to a federal education law require states to assess schools on at least one non-academic measure. Research has shown that social-emotional traits like self-control and perseverance can be better predictors of success than standardized test scores, or other purely academic measures.
But Angela Duckworth, perhaps the worlds foremost authority on grit and the author of much of the research on the topic, says this is a big mistake.
I do not think we should be doing this; it is a bad idea, Duckworth told the Times.
Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has shown that grit, defined by her as the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals, is a good predictor of success in everything from surviving the grueling trials of military academies to reaching the final rounds of spelling bees and simply graduating from public high school.
She has also shown than self-control can predict report-card grades, and changes in these grades over time, better than measured intelligence.
Naturally, understanding how to improve kids grit is of interest to educators and parents. Duckworth thinks that it can can be taught, and that it can grow over time. This is similar to the work of Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, who discovered that kids learn more when they believe intelligence is malleable, and that a growth mindset can be developed over time.
Duckworth has previously outlined her misgivings about the measurement of non-cognitive abilities she thinks are critically important. Testing these traits will be difficult, in part because there are so many of them (empathy, self-control, mindset, zest) and there are a range of definitions for them. Another major obstacle is the tests are faulty: self-reported surveys and teacher questionnaires present a host of problems, including students and teachers biases. As she wrote, along with David Scott Yeager from the University of Texas at Austin:
Our claim is not that everything that counts can be counted or that everything that can be counted counts. Rather, we argue that the field urgently requires much greater clarity about how well, at present, it is able to count some of the things that count.
Here is Duckworths attempt at a grit test, which can produce some pretty weird results.
Some New York Times readers comments were appropriately skeptical of Californias grit-testing plans. So when do parents get to sign their kids up for grit building classes?, asked one, hardly a stretch when parents now hire tutors for nursery school interviews. Said another, Tests for joy? The very definition of an oxymoron. More than a few noted also noted that schools seem to be giving rewards to kids for behavior once considered standard (conscientiousness, self-control).
Testing has been on
the rise in the United States for some time, much to the
chagrin of many parents who say it is stressing their kids
out and does nothing for their academic achievement. More
testing for more ambiguous measures hardly seems like the
grit: check your kids resilience with this quick
Other kids, not so much. When faced with stress or adversity, no matter how big or small, kids in this group tend to falter. Cant cope. Their grades suffer. Friendships languish. Maybe they have trouble sleeping or eating. Perhaps they get a lot of headaches or stomachaches.
Experts have tried to predict the things that make any individual more likely to fall in the first group the resilient group than the second one. Ive written about resilience here a number of times (see here and here for two recent examples), and its pretty clear that its a complex topic. Last week, I wrote about the way in which control fits into resilience, and referenced the famous marshmellow experiment.
After reading that post, a colleague sent me a link to an interesting New York Times Magazine article called What if the Secret to Success is Failure? In this long, sometimes tedious piece, the principals of some New York City area schools experiment with different character-building programs in order to boost long term achievement. It turns out that IQ scores alone arent very good predictors of who will go on to college, who will actually finish their degrees.
We know that character is one of the 7 Cs of resilience, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But its always been notoriously difficult to measure. That is, until a professor named Angela Duckworth, then a doctoral student, sought some way to make sense of the qualities that go beyond IQ: People who accomplished great things, she noticed, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take. (New York Times Magazine, Sept. 14, 2011).
She named this quality grit and came up with a scale for measuring it. Its deceptively simple, only takes a few minutes to fill out, and relies on the usually notoriously unreliable method of self-reporting. But when she tested it, she found that it was powerfully predictive of success. She tested it on college students and found that those who scored high on the Grit Scale had higher GPAs, even if they initially had lower college board tests. She tested it on West Point cadets, and it turned out to be the most accurate predictor of who finished the grueling program.
When they tested students in elementary and high schools, they found that while IQ scores predicted scores on government achievement tests, the Grit Scale was the better predictor of report card grades. Makes sense, since those latter grades include finishing homework projects, in-class participation and behaviour. And that has a lot more to do with self-control and character.
How well would your child do on the Grit Scale? Before you take the test with them, consider that it might be most helpfully read as a rubric of skills you want to help your child develop. A low grit score does not spell the death knell for your childs aspirations! This scale is used by schools to help build on those areas of weakness. You can improve their self-control, their self-discipline, etc. So take the final number with a grain of salt and see it as an opportunity.
Short Grit Scale
Directions for taking the Grit Scale: Please respond to the following 8 items. Be honest there are no right or wrong answers!
ideas and projects sometimes distract me from
previous ones Setbacks
don't discourage me. I
have been obsessed with a certain idea or project
for a short time but later lost
interest.* I am a hard worker. I often set a goal but later
choose to pursue a different one.* I have difficulty maintaining my
focus on projects that take more than a few months
to complete.* I finish whatever I
begin. I am diligent. Total
Points Scoring For questions 2, 4, 7 and 8
assign the following points: For questions 1, 3, 5 and 6
assign the following points: Add up all the points and divide
by 8. The maximum score on this scale is 5
(extremely gritty), and the lowest score on this
scale is 1 (not at all gritty).
New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones
Setbacks don't discourage me.
I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.*
I am a hard worker.
I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.*
I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.*
I finish whatever I begin.
I am diligent.
For questions 2, 4, 7 and 8 assign the following points:
For questions 1, 3, 5 and 6 assign the following points:
Add up all the points and divide by 8. The maximum score on this scale is 5 (extremely gritty), and the lowest score on this scale is 1 (not at all gritty).
Duckworth, A.L, & Quinn, P.D. (2009). Development and validation of the Short Grit Scale (Grit-S). Journal of Personality Assessment, 91, 166-174. www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/images/Duckworth%20and%20Quinn.pdf
Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 1087-1101. www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/images/Grit%20JPSP.pdf