Paper: Grit and High-Stakes Testing Shouldn’t Mix


New research suggests that the concept of “grit,” or a person’s ability to persevere in the face of failure, should not be used by educational leaders when it comes to high-stakes testing situations.

Previous information discussed the importance of grit, along with other non-academic skills such as self-control, causing researchers to suggest that the ability is essential.  That, in turn, has caused numerous education leaders to use the information to make a push for additional accountability measures to further standardize math and reading exams.  They believe they could use the term while judging a teacher or school’s ability to influence a student’s character.

However, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, the scientist most closely related to the concept, recently published a paper in the journal Educational Researcher, along with colleague David Scott Yeager at the University of Texas at Austin, suggesting that “grit” is not ready to be linked to ideas such as high-stakes testing, writes Anya Kamenetz for NPR.

“I feel like the enthusiasm is getting ahead of the science,” Duckworth said in an interview. “I’m hearing about school district superintendents getting very interested in things like character and grit, and wanting to evaluate teachers based on them.” That, she says, would be gravely premature.

The problem with the concept is that “grit” is highly based on self-reporting.  In other words, in order to determine someone’s “grit,” that person must give themselves a grade on statements such as “I am a hard worker.”  Duckworth said across large populations, she was able to find increasing correlations between such statements and actual accomplishments of individuals.

She went on to say that despite this, there are a number of issues with using the concept for high-stakes accountability.  She fears that teachers may put pressure on their students to make themselves, the teacher, or the school look better, whether they intend to or not.  She said that those who work the hardest could have an inaccurately low opinion of themselves, reports Emma Brown for The Washington Post.

“School districts and state legislators are in some cases so enthusiastic about grit and mind-set that they want to tell people to measure it, to make salaries dependent on it,” Duckworth said in an interview.

Duckworth received the 2013 MacArthur “Genius” award after suggesting that a student’s ability to succeed both in and out of school is linked to their level of self-control and “grittiness.”  Her previous research found that students with “grit” are more likely to graduate high school, perform at higher levels on the SAT and ACT, be more physically active, and less likely to change careers later on.

05 16, 2015
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