Teaching Academic Tenacity: Why the SAT, Pearson and PARCC tests Are Poor Predictors of College/Career Readiness and Why Non-Cognitive Skills Trump Faulty Exams.

We are obsessed with judging teacher quality by measuring student achievement. To make it even more complex we are measuring student achievement by a brand new yardstick, the Common Core State Standards.

Parents, educators and the New York State governor are confused, two-thirds of students scored “below proficient” on the latest tests, which the State Education Department now defines as “approaching proficiency.” (smile) and half of all teachers scored “highly effective” and less than 1% scored “ineffective” on the extremely complex APPR teacher evaluation metric.

The governor asks: if two-thirds of kids are failing state tests how can teachers score so highly on the teacher evaluation tool? How can principals give teachers high grades on the 60% lesson assessment section of the teacher evaluation tool when so many kids doing so poorly on the tests?

Unfortunately we are using the wrong tools to measure the wrong outcomes.

We base a range of decisions on a test, a few hours of bubbling in answers and writing an essay; however the SAT and the ACT, which also use bubble sheets and essays, are poor predictors of college success. The best predictor is standing in class as measured by the student’s GPA. It should not be surprising; the GPA is determined by numerous tests over four years of high school reflecting the judgment of many teachers.

The largest study of students at colleges that do not require SAT or ACT scores has found that there is “virtually no difference” in the academic performance (measured in grades or graduation rates) of those who do and don’t submit scores.

The study — involving 123,000 students at 33 colleges and universities of varying types — found that high school grades do predict student success. And this extends to those who do better or worse than expected on standardized exams. So those students with low high school grades but high test scores generally receive low college grades, while those with high grades in high school, but low test scores, generally receive high grades in college.

This is not an isolated example of research, in 2005 a study explains,

… researchers examined differences in the predictive strength of high school grades and standardized test scores for student involvement, academic achievement, retention, and satisfaction. Findings indicate that high school grades are stronger predictors of success than standardized test scores for both racial and religious minority students.

In another study the Council for Aid to Education and NYU supports the finding of the research supra

In spite of the evidence that the SAT does not achieve its purposes the folks at the College Board are rolling out a new exam in the spring of 2016, a test that reflects the Common Core standard competencies; at the same time more and more colleges are abandoning the SAT.

If tests, be it the SAT or Pearson-produced Grade 3-8 state tests or the PARCC exams are not accurate predictors of college success, or, teacher competence, how should we assess teacher performance and student achievement?

The answer may be in a Gates-funded study, Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long Term Learning, (Carole Dweck and others, Stanford University). The introduction is exceptionally important,

In a nationwide survey of high school dropouts, 69% said that school had not motivated or inspired them to work hard. In fact, many of the students who remain in school are not motivated or inspired either, and the more time students spend in K-12 education the worse it gets. What prevents students from working hard in school? Is it something about them, or it something about school? Is there a solution to this problem?

Most education reform focuses on curriculum and pedagogy – what material is taught and how is it taught? However, curriculum and pedagogy have often been narrowly defined as the academic content and students’ intellectual processing of that material. Research shows that this is insufficient. In our pursuit of education reform, something has been missing: the psychology of the student. Psychological factors, often called motivational or non-cognitive factors – can matter even more than cognitive factors for student academic performance …

Academic tenacity is about the mindsets and skills that allow students to:

* Look beyond short-term concerns to higher order goals, and

* Withstand challenges to setbacks to persevere towards these goals.

Dweck and her co-authors make it clear, it’s not the “right” curriculum or the “right” pedagogy, there are many paths to the same ends, the “solution” is not the Common Core, the “solution” is not in the Charlotte Danielson frameworks, without a teaching/learning environment that supports Academic Tenacity too many students, too many high poverty students and student of color will be left behind.

The authors specifically define “key characteristics and behaviors” that can be defined and taught,

Key Characteristics and Behaviors of Academically Tenacious Students

* Belong academically and socially
* See school as relevant to their future
* Work hard and postpone immediate pleasures
* Not derailed by intellectual and social difficulties
* Seek out challenges
* Remain engaged over the long haul

Scientific American affirms the research findings and links to a range of research findings (Check out here)

For academic achievement, ability is not enough. What’s also needed are mindsets and strategies for overcoming obstacles, staying on task, and learning and growing over the long-term … academic tenacity is not about being smart, but learning smart.

I was visiting a middle school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, a neighborhood at the top of the list of handgun violence and homicides. As I walked toward the office a student “introduced” himself, “My name is xx, can I help you?” Each classroom displayed the banner from a college and the advisory rooms had names, the name of a college. No one was yelling at kids, a student was talking loudly and a teacher simply put his find to his lips. The school leader took me into a classroom, and asked, “”What are we learning today?” The kids all raised their hands, anxious to tell me all about the lesson.

The middle school downstairs was chaos.

Danielson frameworks are a guide and set a standard; however, students in screened schools or schools with more middle class students are far more likely to reach the “highly effective” category, as evidenced by the teacher grades on the APPR, the state teacher evaluation metric.

Challenging content, rigorous curriculum and pedagogy combined with the teaching skills that promote academic tenacity is the path to creating successful schools and college and/or career ready students.

Are schools of education and school-based professional development emphasizing the teaching of Academic Tenacity? I fear not. Hopefully research will trump the current faulty teaching and learning trends.


7 responses to “Teaching Academic Tenacity: Why the SAT, Pearson and PARCC tests Are Poor Predictors of College/Career Readiness and Why Non-Cognitive Skills Trump Faulty Exams.

  1. Its gonna get worse before it gets better. If Teachers were to continually be rated unsatsifactory because of their failure to “move students along” from a testing perspective, and if in turn those teachers are dismissed for cause, the vacancies will far outnumber the potential work force. To compound matters, with the Presidents immigration reform iniative, while I support it, there will come a huge number of students who will require ELA/ESL and Bi Ling class settings. Many of these students will be integrated into mainstream classes, and will be required to take all of the common core exams. How do you measure teacher performance based upon those bound to be low pupil test scores going forward?


  2. Reblogged this on aureliomontemayor and commented:
    Challenging content, rigorous curriculum and pedagogy combined with the teaching skills that promote academic tenacity is the path to creating successful schools and college and/or career ready students.


  3. Across all ethnic groups, working hard in school is a strong predictor of academic accomplishment. One clear reason for the relative levels of performance of the various ethnic groups is that Asian students devote relatively more effort to their studies, and Black and Latino youngsters relatively less.

    “Beyond the Classroom,” Laurence Steinberg
    Beyond the Classroom, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, pp. 183-187

    For nearly fifteen years now, educators and policy-makers have been engaged in a nationwide effort to solve the problem of low student achievement in America. In one blue-ribbon bipartisan commission report after another, the American public has been told that if we change how we organize our schools, how and what we teach in the classrooms, and how we select, train, and compensate our teachers, we will see improvements in our children’s educational performance. In response to these reports, government agencies and private foundations have spent massive amounts of money on research designed to transform America’s schools. Although we hear occasional success stories about a school here or a program there that has turned students’ performance around, the competence of American students has not improved.

    It is time we faced the music: fifteen years of school reform has not really accomplished anything. Today’s students know less, and can do less, than their counterparts could twenty-five years ago. Our high school graduates are among the least intellectually competent in the industrialized world. Contrary to widespread claims that the low achievement of American students is not real—that it is merely a “statistical artifact”—systematic scientific evidence indicates quite compellingly that the problem of poor student achievement is genuine, substantial, and pervasive across ethnic, socioeconomic, and age groups.

    The achievement problem we face in this country is due not to a drop in the intelligence or basic intellectual capability of our children, but to a widespread decline in children’s interest in education and in their motivation to achieve in the classroom; it is a problem of attitude and effort, not ability. Two decades ago, a teacher in an average high school in this country could expect to have three or four “difficult” students in a class of thirty. Today, teachers in these same schools are expected to teach to classrooms in which nearly half of the students are uninterested. And only a very small proportion of the remaining half strives for excellence.

    Given the findings of our study, it is not difficult to understand why so many students coast through school without devoting very much energy to schoolwork. As things stand, there is little reason for the majority of students to exert themselves any more than is necessary to avoid failing, being held back, or not graduating. Within an educational system in which all that counts is promotion to the next level—in which earning good grades is seen as equivalent to earning mediocre ones, and worse yet, in which actually learning something from school is seen as equivalent to not learning anything at all—students choose the path of least resistance. Getting by, rather than striving to succeed, has become the organizing principle behind student behavior in our schools. It is easy to point the finger at schools for creating this situation, but parents, employers, and the mass media have been significant participants in this process as well.

    Our findings suggest that the sorry state of American student achievement is due more to the conditions of students’ lives outside of school than it is to what takes place within school walls. In my view, the failure of the school reform movement to reverse the decline in achievement is due to its emphasis on reforming schools and classrooms, and its general disregard of the contributing factors that, while outside the boundaries of the school, are probably more influential. In this final chapter, I want to go beyond the findings of our study and discuss a series of steps America needs to take if we are to successfully address [solve] the problem of declining student achievement.

    Although we did not intend our study to be a study of ethnicity and achievement, the striking and consistent ethnic differences in performance and behavior that we observed demand careful consideration, if only because they demonstrate that some students are able to achieve at high levels within American schools, whatever our schools’ shortcomings may be. This does not mean, of course that our schools are free of problems, or that all students would be performing at high levels “if only” they behaved like their successful counterparts from other ethnic groups. Nevertheless, our findings do suggest that there may be something important to be learned by examining the behaviors and attitudes of students who are able to succeed within American schools as they currently exist, and that something other than deficiencies in our schools is contributing to America’s achievement problem.

    By identifying some of the factors that appear to contribute to the remarkable success of Asian students (and Asian immigrants in particular), or that impede success among African-American and Latino students (and especially among Latinos whose families have been living in the United States for some time), we were able to ask whether these same factors contribute to student achievement in all groups. That is, we asked whether the factors that seem to give an advantage to Asian students as a group are the same factors that facilitate student achievement in general, regardless of a youngster’s ethnic background. The answer, for the most part, is yes.

    Across all ethnic groups, working hard in school is a strong predictor of academic accomplishment. One clear reason for the relative levels of performance of the various ethnic groups is that Asian students devote relatively more effort to their studies, and Black and Latino youngsters relatively less. Compared with their peers, Asian youngsters spend twice as much time each week on homework and are significantly more engaged in the classroom. Students from other ethnic groups are more likely to cut class, less likely to pay attention, and less likely to value doing well in school. Black and Latino students are less likely to do the homework they are assigned than are White or Asian students.

    Second, successful students are more likely than their peers to worry about the potential negative consequences of not getting a good education. Students need to believe that their performance in school genuinely matters in order to do well in the classroom, but students appear to be more strongly motivated by the desire to avoid failure than by actually striving for success. Because schools expect so little from students, however, it is easy for most of them to avoid failing without exerting much effort or expending much energy. Within a system that fails [flunks] very few students, then, only those students who have high standards of their own—who have more stringent criteria for success and failure—will strive to do better than merely to pass their courses and graduate.

    Asian students are far more likely to be worried about the possibility of not doing well in school and the implications of this for their future; this, then, is the second reason for their superior performance relative to other youngsters. Contrary to popular stereotype, African-American and Latino students are not especially pessimistic or cynical about the value of schooling, but, rather are unwisely optimistic about the repercussions of doing poorly in school. Either these students believe they can succeed without getting a good education or they have adopted this view as a way of compensating psychologically for their relatively weaker performance. In either case, though, their cavalier appraisal of the consequences of doing poorly in school is a serious liability.

    Third, there are important differences in how students view the causes of their successes and failures, and these differences in students’ beliefs have important implications for how they actually perform in school. Successful students believe that their accomplishments are the result of hard work, and their failures the consequence of insufficient effort. Unsuccessful students, in contrast, attribute success and failure to factors outside their own control, such as luck, innate ability, or the biases of teachers. The greater prevalence of the healthful attributional style we see among Asian students in this country is consistent with what other researchers have found in cross-cultural comparisons of individuals’ beliefs about the origins of success. Americans, in general, place too much emphasis on the importance of native ability, and too little emphasis on the necessity of hard work. This set of views is hurting our children’s achievement in school.

    Regardless of ethnic background, success in school is highly correlated with being strongly engaged in school emotionally. The factors that contribute to the relative success of Asian students—hard work, high personal standards, anxiety about doing poorly, and the belief that success and failure are closely linked to the amount of effort one exerts—are keys to academic success in all groups of students. The superior performance of Asian students in American schools, then, is not mysterious, but explainable on the basis of their attitudes, values, and behavior.


  4. The children who will suffer the most from this testing insanity will be those who have learning disabilities, for instance dyslexia. It’s estimated that 80% of children who have trouble learning to read and who fall behind in the classroom in reading have dyslexia. One in five students, or 15-20% of the population, has a language based learning disability.


    As a child, I was one of them. My dyslexia was so severe, that at age 6 or 7 my mother was told I would never learn to read. And even after my mother made liars out of the so-called experts who told her that—-not my 1st grade classroom teacher, who gave my mother advice on what to do at home to teach me to read after the verdict of so-called experts—-I always had trouble with tests. A child with dyslexia, who can read, will easily get confused with reading under pressure for meaning.

    There’s a long list of famous people with dyslexia. This list includes director Steven Spielberg, investor Charles Schwab and actress Whoopi Goldberg. It also includes quarterback Tim Tebow, and author Dav Pilkey, who created the popular Captain Underpants books—-the testing insanity will make sure future dyslexics who could have been the next Steven Spielberg will have even more barriers between them and success in life.


  5. rachel dearagon

    Children are not any different that other humans. They do best when they have a meaningful purpose, are treated with respect, and believe that those around them share common values and goals. The school is an extension of the community in which it exists; let us strive to make that a meaningful, purposful, respectful and value focused communityt. All of us, teachers and students and parens will be its shining stars.


  6. Pingback: Ed News, Tuesday, December 16, 2014 Edition | tigersteach

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