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MSPnet Blog: “NAEP grit”

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posted July 22, 2015 – by Brian Drayton

Ed Week tells us that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is testing some survey questions to accompany their subject-matter tests. The questions seem to be self-reports, asking students to assess themselves on such things as “grit,” “desire for learning,”self-efficacy” and “personal achievement goals.”
How does this strike you? On the one hand, it is important to be able to persist in solving a challenge or overcoming an obstacle. On the other hand, how does such testing fit into our models of schooling? Whose job is it to teach grit?  And how is the way that this idea is construed not going to be deeply culture bound?

Valerie Strauss, at the Answer Sheet (WashingtonPost) has been on the grit beat for some time, and it’s worth reading her July 11 column on the NAEP effort.  I encourage you to follow up on the links embedded there.  A noteworthy link is to a paper in the Educational Researcher by the most important scholarly proponent and student of “grit,” Angela Duckworth, who with a colleague discusses  the serious technical problems with measuring this and similar “non cognitive” characteristics of children.  Paul Thomas (the “Becoming radical” blogger) has a whole section on his blog “Debunked” about “grit” and its sociopolitical dimensions.

Of course, “social-emotional” dimensions of learning are important and deserve study and other attention (I found this research brief by Hamedani and Darling-Hammond very interesting).  But how do we think about them in the context of “scaled up,” institutionalized processes?   I have often been struck by how much time a middle-school science teacher, say, spends not teaching science — but rather helping students organize their backpacks, manage their schedules, get through recess, and so forth. These are important things, of course, but not so easy to fit into the productivity ideals that are being pushed on schools these days.  They represent an amalgam of personality, background, opportunity, and many other contextual factors.  Interpreting a child’s condition, or guiding her/his growth, with respect to them is a matter of the most personal observation and response, it seems to me, and turning them into measurable quantities which might then be incorporated into the judging/sorting/ accountability machine makes me nervous.

But perhaps you have lived with these ideas longer or more deeply than I, and see such matters as playing an important role in your work.  As the “grit” fad gathers steam, how shall we make sense of it, sort the wheat from the chaff?