From Standardized Tests to Standardized Character
Grit, not to be confused with the popular Southern breakfast dish, is a personality trait. Described by Webster’s Dictionary as “mental toughness and courage,” grit is a catchall term for personal virtues like perseverance and self-control.
Interestingly, a growing body of research is finding that traits like grit might be more important to children’s success in life than traditional academic knowledge.
The Washington Post recently reported:
[Angela] Duckworth, a former middle school teacher [and University of Pennsylvania researcher], is known for helping to popularize the notion that a student’s success is correlated to that student’s level of self-control and “grittiness,” or ability to keep working toward goals.
Her research has shown that grittier students are more likely to graduate from high school, score higher on SAT and ACT exams and be more physically fit. Grittier students also are less likely to get divorced, and they typically experience fewer career changes.
Dr. Thomas Hoerr, head of New City School in Saint Louis, is the author of Fostering Grit: How Do I Prepare My Students for the Real World? Hoerr’s instructional suggestions echo Duckworth’s findings. “Teachers should embrace teaching the whole child, and should consciously seek to foster the intrapersonal and interpersonal qualities which will make a difference in life—such as grit,” Hoerr said in an email.
Given the fact that grit is important, and it appears that teachers can have an effect on the “grittiness” of students, there is a movement around the country to link measures of students’ grit to the evaluation of schools and teachers.
Even though they both feel that fostering grittiness is important, neither Hoerr nor Duckworth are pushing for tying teacher evaluations to student grittiness.
Why? The biggest issue is measurement. Student self-assessments are commonly used to measure social and emotional factors, requiring students to self-evaluate their level of hopefulness about their future and asking questions like, “Did you laugh or smile a lot yesterday?” Duckworth has noted that grittier students, those who tend to have more self-awareness, are more likely to rate themselves lower. The very thing that makes them gritty drives them to hold themselves to a higher standard. If teacher or school evaluations are based on this measure, they will be inaccurate.
While grit is clearly important, the measures for determining teachers’ impact on it are not ready for prime time. It took decades to be able to link simple math and reading scores, and we’re still working out the bugs on those. It will be some time before new measures are available.