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November 17, 2017

Mind over matter? New evidence on the impact of growth mindset

Growth mindset – the belief that intelligence is changeable, rather than fixed –  has been promoted in classrooms across the country for years. Increasingly, teachers are encouraged to praise children for their effort and grit in solving problems rather than their innate intelligence. The widely recognized importance of a growth mindset in students has even spurred some to emphasize the characteristic as a potential element of school quality, to be tracked alongside test scores.

Until now, the evidence in support of the growth mindset has relied on studies of high school and college-aged students, and has provided little insight to development of the characteristic in historically underserved students. A new study presented this month at the fall conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Measurement tackles these issues, and provides some intriguing new evidence about the academic impact of growth mindset.

The study examines 125,000 students attending 4th through 7th grades in five urban California school districts. In order to examine the impact of growth mindset on students’ learning outcomes, the authors linked student test score data to a measure of growth mindset that reflects responses to the following questions:

Please indicate how true each of the following statements is for you:
(1) My intelligence is something that I can’t change very much;
(2) Challenging myself won’t make me any smarter;
(3) There are some things I am not capable of learning; and
(4) If I am not naturally smart in a subject, I will never do well in it.
For each of these questions, students choose: Not at All True, A Little True, Somewhat True, Mostly True, or Completely True.

Their findings are substantial: historically underserved students were less likely than their peers to hold a growth mindset, and students that did hold a growth mindset showed significantly more learning over the course of a school year than did students with a fixed mindset.

The authors find that what they call the “mindset gap” impacts a variety of historically underserved student subgroups. Students who are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch, English Language Learners, and both Hispanic and African American students all show lower degrees of growth mindset across the 4th-7th grades than did their peers. Female students were more likely to maintain a high level of growth mindset than their male peers until the 7th grade, when the gap closes. The authors note that these gaps are larger across schools than within an individual school, possibly highlighting the power of the school environment to shape beliefs about learning among students.

The authors’ findings on the impact of growth mindset on academic achievement are particularly striking. Students who had a high level of growth mindset measured in one year, when compared to demographically and academically similar students, achieved higher test scores and showed greater learning when tested in the following year. Students in all subgroups – including students of all races and ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and genders – who held a growth mindset saw higher test scores in both mathematics and language arts (by 0.04 standard deviations and 0.07 standard deviations, respectively). These higher test scores reflect significant additional learning over the course of a school year. The average student who moves from a fixed mindset to a neutral mindset experiences learning growth reflective of approximately 19 school days of learning – about one additional calendar month in the classroom.

Evidence continues to build on the effectiveness of growth mindset. Teachers and administrators already know that developing this attitude can help build students’ learning, but now current research tells us just how significant that impact may be. It is particularly important for schools serving underserved populations – those students who may be less likely to hold a growth mindset – to cultivate these beliefs about learning in their students. With nearly one month of additional learning growth on the line, developing and promoting growth mindset may bring significant achievement gains for all students.

Filed under: 21st century education,CPE,equity — Tags: , , — Megan Lavalley @ 4:44 pm

May 4, 2015

ACT now, before time runs out!

In a report released by ACT, the testing company once again sought to explain into the concept of career readiness (part of the now common terminology “college and career readiness”) and to explain what it is in particular that so many students are desired to have and what schools are expected to impart, as well as how best to measure it.

The brief report begins by explaining that college and career readiness are often considered to be measured by the same assessments, however there are several significant differences between these two and that college readiness and career readiness are best measured separately. Stemming from misinterpretations of ACT’s 2006 Ready for College and Ready for Work report, the intention was to highlight that those students who choose to enter the workforce after high school still benefit significantly in school from exposure to academically rigorous standards as do those students preparing for college. Apparently, some saw this to say that by assessing the skills that serve as foundational components of both college readiness and career readiness that these two constructs are then the same.

The recent report explains that when defining and assessing one’s readiness to enter the workforce, there are skill sets that one acquires, from broad abilities that would apply to numerous jobs to specific skills that are job-specific. Accordingly, there are three levels of workplace readiness that follow this general to specific structure: work readiness, career readiness, and job readiness.

Work readiness is the most general form of academic readiness for the workplace. These would be the skills that would prepare any high school graduate for postsecondary workforce training regardless of the intended career or occupation. Career readiness, more directed than work readiness, would be the workplace readiness that would be required for a specific group of careers. For example, whereas all graduates would need foundational work readiness skills such as reading and math proficiency, the fields of health care and construction would generally require different types of skills (for example, the importance of knowing statistics or creating financial statements may be ranked differently by construction and health care professions) regardless of what specific profession is chosen. The last, and most specific, form of workplace readiness is job readiness. This would relate to the skill sets and competencies required or expected for a specific job or occupation.

Similar to our Defining a 21st Century Education report, the ACT report also includes a discussion as to whether including more than just academic skills is appropriate in assessing college and career readiness. In addition to core academic skills (such math, science, and English/language arts), three other skill domains are elaborated. These include: cross-cutting capabilities include those higher-level thinking and social skills (e.g., critical thinking, problem-solving, cooperation), behavioral skills, such as one’s ability to work well in a team setting and managing stress, and navigation skills, such as goal orientation and self-knowledge of abilities. ACT posits that without the consideration of these non-academic components in assessment, the value placed on such skills and abilities will be ignored despite their recognized importance by the education, business, and industry communities. Certainly, an environment fostering these skills would benefit students by way supporting a more comprehensive education. In the very least, it would be difficult to argue against wanting students to have such competencies. ACT concludes that they are currently underway researching how they can aid in examining this more “holistic approach” to career readiness. –David Ferrier

May 8, 2013

Blinding us with science

Nanophysicists, as their name suggests, spend their days looking at really tiny stuff — atoms, electrons and other particles whose smallness can hardly be imagined by most of us non-nanos. Now IBM scientists have given us a glimpse of their microworld in what is billed as the World’s Smallest Movie. The plot may leave a lot to be desired, but that’s not why the one and a half minute film has been downloaded more than three million times in just the last week.  The film, “A boy and his atom,” is a stop action portrayal of a boy playing that was made by moving individual atoms one at a time and magnifying the image by a factor of 100 million. See for yourself.


[An interesting sidenote: Ray Harryhausen — one of the great pioneers of stop action film technique — died yesterday at the age of 92]

Making atom movies is not really an item in the IBM team’s job description. The scientists are actually working on vastly increasing data storage capacity in smaller devices. Last year, they found a way to reduce the number of atoms required to store one bit of digital information from one million to 12. That’s not a typo. But as their website says, “even nanophysicists need to have a little fun.”  That wasn’t the only motivation for producing this film. Looking ahead to a future workforce, IBM hopes that it will get more students excited in science.

That’s certainly one of the goals of the Next Generation Science Standards, the final draft of which was released in mid-April.  The Next Gen standards are intended as a companion to the common core state standards.  The initiative was led by Achieve, Inc., which was also a key player in drafting the common core and directs the PARCC consortia developing aligned assessments.  It further involved twenty-six so-called lead states and was privately funded.

The final standards have been endorsed by the business community, science teachers and others.  Some earlier critics like the Fordham Institute have been more muted in their comments and are withholding judgment until the integration with the common core is completed. Nonetheless, many agree that they improve on current science standards in most states by defining a coherent K-12 program, emphasizing science practice alongside content, and not shying away from sensitive topics like evolution and climate change.

I was privileged to have a small part in an earlier science standards-setting effort called Project 2061 that was led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Then and now, my number one criterion for reviewing standards is: do they make me wish I could be a student again? Project 2061 definitely did that. To the degree that the Next Gen standards will demand more science, particularly at the elementary level, and encourage children’s curiosity about exploring the world, they are a definite move in the right direction. However, like Fordham, I am waiting to see more before making a final call.

The next gen standards can be downloaded for free. Be aware the format requires some perseverance on the part of the reader.

And talking about being excited about  science … below is a photo of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson who wowed 5,000 attendees at NSBA’s annual conference in April. Dr. Tyson showed us that in relation to the cosmos, we are as tiny as the “boy and his atom” are to us. A great advocate for science research and education, he inspired everyone to make sure their students are encouraged to explore and imagine. And not just because our nation needs scientifically literate workers and citizens. But also because our students need a little fun, too.


April 26, 2013

The common core: truths, untruths and ambiguities

Educators in 46 states and DC are deep in the process of implementing new “common core” standards into their classrooms. But an emerging anti-core backlash may render their efforts moot in several states.

For readers who may not know, the common core state standards are intended to define the knowledge and skills in English language arts (ELA) and math that high school graduates will need for success in college and 21st century jobs. The standards were drafted by associations representing the nation’s governors and state education chiefs through a process involving experts and stakeholders and included a two-part public review. They have been endorsed by business leaders , teachers unions  and a bipartisan array of policymakers including President Obama and Jeb Bush. Within two years of their finalization, they were voluntarily adopted by all but four states.

Despite their high-profile supporters, not everyone is feeling the common core love and a handful of early adopting states are experiencing second thoughts. Some critics, like Samuel Goldman writing in the American Conservative, challenge the whole idea of national academic standards, voluntary or otherwise, as an erosion of federalism. Others, like education historian Diane Ravitch, question the wisdom of widespread investment in “untested” standards, especially when attached to real consequences for students, teachers and schools.

These are legitimate debates for us to have. Indeed, something this central to public education demands it. School districts also have real worries about meeting the timeline — the standards are due to be tested in 2014-15 — and getting all of the necessary pieces in place so students will be ready.  Make no mistake. This is a huge undertaking involving every moving part of the education system.

Still others challenge whether the new common core standards are worthwhile targets for students. Unfortunately, this backlash is being fueled by some critics’ misreading of the standards, some unknowns, and more than a few whoppers.

What follows is my attempt to clarify what is true, untrue and ambiguous regarding some of the claims made about the standards themselves so we can focus on the conversation that we need to have about their appropriate role in a national education agenda:

  • Not true: “The common core standards are dumbed down.”  My first reaction to this charge is that whoever believes this has not looked at current standards in many states.  The conservative-leaning Fordham Foundation did just that. Comparing all state standards to the common core, the authors determined that the core are “clearly superior” to 39 states’ math standards and to 37 states in ELA. Three states had “superior” ELA standards to the core. Everything else was about the same.
  • Not true with a caveat: “Classic literature will be crowded out.” A classic misreading of the ELA standards prompted by a common core recommendation that reading at the high school level should be 30 percent literary and 70 percent informational. On the surface that looks like a dramatic shift. But only if one assumes that all of the reading would happen in the English classroom. In fact, a distinguishing characteristic of the common core — one I applaud — is that the ELA standards define specific benchmarks for reading and writing in Social Studies, Science and technical subjects. There’s a good reason for this: American students perform well internationally when it comes to reading literature, but their performance falls when reading for information. But this also means that teachers of those other subjects should be responsible for those particular standards. And that’s the caveat: English teachers have every right to complain if they have to shoulder the full reading burden. At the same time, their colleagues in other subjects were not prepared to teach reading and writing in their subject area and will require some coaching and support.

As to the claim that great literary works will be de-emphasized or not taught at all , I refer readers to the recommended reading in the common core: Shakespeare, Twain, Longfellow, Ovid, Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Yeats, Neruda … you get the idea.

  • True. “The common core does not require cursive writing.” Not true. “Schools cannot teach cursive writing.” This one is just silly, and I suspect it was a slow news day when this rumor got started. Just because something is not specifically addressed in the standards does not mean it is prohibited from being taught.
  • Not true: “8th graders will no longer be able to take Algebra 1.”  See “cursive writing.” Nothing precludes districts from offering Algebra 1 to 8th graders. The core authors even provide a way to organize a “compacted” middle school math program for students who are ready for high-level math in 8th grade.
  • True: “The common core are internationally benchmarked.” William H. Schmidt, the nation’s foremost expert in international math performance, found that the common core-math standards are comparable to the highest-achieving nations. He further found that “most states have a long way to go” to equal them.
  • The jury is still out. “The common core will make every graduate college and career-ready.” Twenty years of research shows that all young people need a high school experience that prepares them for both post-secondary education and good jobs. The common core standards seem to provide a good map for getting there. Whether or not we succeed, however, depends on whether schools can retool effectively, especially given the short deadline and tight budgets. It will require new curriculum and instructional materials; more robust assessments and technology to support them; professional development for teachers and administrators. It will not just involve school districts, but state departments of education, higher education and early education, too. It demands considerable resources to carry out.

Lastly, success will require good communication with parents, teachers and the wider community. Schools will need their support to make change happen, something they’re not likely to get if the information the public gets is wrong.

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.


January 25, 2013

The future is still the future?

Honestly, I’m not a Luddite. But sometimes I feel like I’m playing one here at CPE.

Last year we examined what was known — or more accurately what was not known — about online courses and cyberschools, and their overall impact on student learning. The report, Searching for the Reality of Virtual Schools, found that despite some very exciting things happening in online education, the overall impact of virtual courses and schools on elementary and secondary students is either undocumented or bleak.  We also found that the fault is mostly with inadequate monitoring systems for students working online, with the result that many of them appeared to be dropping in and out of the cyberworld unnoticed and often untaught.

Recent news from Pennsylvania isn’t making us any more hopeful. Earlier this week, an independent education news service in Philadelphia reported on allegations by former employees that a major virtual charter school provider, K12 Inc.

“aggressively recruited children who were ill-suited for the company’s model of online education. They say the schools then manipulated enrollment, attendance, and performance data to maximize tax-subsidized, per-pupil funding.”

K12 operates the Agora cyber charter which enrolls 8,000 of the state’s 32,000 full-time cyber students.  In addition to actively seeking students who are most likely to do poorly online, the former K12 employees further described the company’s practice of skirting attendance requirements while continuing to bill the state for students who are clearly not participating in the instruction.

The charges are part of a class action suit filed by investors in K12 which reported $522 million earnings in 2011. According to the article, most of K12’s revenue was generated by managing public virtual charter schools.  While the investors have their reasons to be unhappy, the real victims here, of course, are the students.

Then yesterday, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released recalculated AYP numbers for all charter schools in the state. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the recalculations were called for after it was revealed that AYP requirements for charter schools were more lenient than those for traditional public schools. The new numbers show that 43 charters met AYP, down from 77 under the former rules.

Of particular interest was that not one — zero — virtual charter schools made AYP.  As we reported last year, Stanford University researchers had earlier looked at Pennsylvania virtual charter schools over the period 2007 and 2010. They found that they consistently performed worse in terms of student gains than the traditional public school the students would have otherwise attended. Obviously, nothing has changed.

A now legendary 1955 documentary heralded the approach of a new technological age, proclaiming that “the future is now.”  I have seen how technology is transforming classrooms for the better, especially when blended with face-to-face instruction with a teacher. But for the idea there will be a brave new cyber world of schooling, the future still seems to be in the future.

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