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Best of AEA365: Shelly Engelman and Tom McKlin on ‘Grit’ as a Measure of Academic Success

Hello all! This is Shelly Engelman and Tom McKlin, evaluators at The Findings Groups, LLC, a privately-owned applied research and evaluation firm with a focus on STEM education.

The primary objective of many programs that we evaluate is to empower a broad range of elementary, middle and high school students to learn STEM content and reasoning skills. Many of our programs theorize that increasing exposure to and content knowledge in STEM will translate into more diverse students persisting through the education pipeline. Our evaluation questions often probe the affective (e.g. emotions, interests) and cognitive aspects (e.g. intelligence, abilities) of learning and achievement; however, the conative (volition, initiative, perseverance) side of academic success has been largely ignored in educational assessment. While interest and content knowledge do contribute to achieving goals, psychologists have recently found that Grit—defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals— is potentially the most important predictor of success. In fact, research indicates that the correlation between grit and achievement was twice as large as the correlation between IQ and achievement.

Lessons Learned: Studies investigating grit have found that “gritty” students:

  • Earn higher GPAs in college, even after controlling for SAT scores,
  • Obtain more education over their lifetimes, even after controlling for SES and IQ,
  • Outperform other Scripps National Spelling Bee contests, and
  • Withstand the first grueling year as cadets at West Point.

Even among educators, research suggests that teachers who demonstrate grit are more effective at producing higher academic gains in students.

Rad Resouce Articles:

 Hot Tip: Grit may be assessed with an 8-item scale Grit Scale that has been developed and validated by Duckworth and colleagues (2009).

Future Consideration:  The major takeaway from studies on Grit is that conative skills like Grit often have little to do with the traditional ways of measuring achievement (via timed content knowledge assessments) but explain a larger share of individual variation when it comes to achievement over a lifetime. As we design evaluation plans for programs hoping to improve achievement and transition students through higher education, we may consider measuring the degree to which these programs are impacting the volitional components of goal-oriented motivation. Recently, two schools have developed programs to foster grit in students. Read their stories below:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Best of aea365, an occasional series. The contributions for Best of aea365 are reposts of great blog articles from our earlier years. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

3 thoughts on “Best of AEA365: Shelly Engelman and Tom McKlin on ‘Grit’ as a Measure of Academic Success”

  1. Thank you for sharing your article Shelly and Tom. I am currently creating an evaluation of my school’s STEAM club for students ages 11-12. My evaluation questions are currently focused on the emotions and intellectual outcome, similar to those mentioned in your post. I wanted to determine if the students interest in STEAM topics increased, and if they saw improvement in those academic subject areas. I had not previously thought about evaluating the conative indicators which you brought up including an increase in perseverance and initiative-taking. After reading your post and the Rad Resources you shared, I do see how it should be included in my evaluation.
    The New York Times story you shared in gave a fascinating example of a principal who believes that character should be more esteemed than IQ. He discusses in great detail how in order to be successful and obtain ‘grit’ children need to learn how to overcome challenges and sometimes even fail. If they never face and real trials, then they will never learn how to push through when things do get tough. One of the reasons why the STEAM program was created was so that students learn through trial and error to problem-solve in a supportive environment.
    Unfortunately most of the links in your post did not work any longer, so I was wondering if you had advice on how to best evaluate grit through a program evaluation. I was able to find another article by Angela Duckworth where she explained that “educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.” She found that you can measure ‘grit’ through a test she designed and that it was a good indicator for long-term success. I would be interested in given the ‘grit’ test at the beginning and end of the STEAM club to see if their score changed in any way. I wonder if this would be a reliable test given that it is subjective to the student’s opinion of themselves. If you, or anyone else has other suggestions for a way to quantify conative qualities I would love to hear about them!
    Thank you,

  2. Thank you for this post. The research on this topic of grit and how it correlates to student success is so interesting to me as an educator and a parent. I was introduced to the topic after reading Angela Duckworth’s book Grit and have been interested in reading more about the topic ever since.

    It actually makes me question some of my own ingrained values and beliefs. As a young person trying to decide which career path I might want pursue my mother often said to chose something that can provide you with the lifestyle you are looking for. I had dreams of being a veterinarian only because we had pets and I loved our animals. Being that I wasn’t very strong in math or sciences my mother’s advice was there are some things that you may just not be made out to pursue due to lack of ability in that area so in other words maybe try to think of a career in an area that you might have more academic strength. As I learn more about grit it makes me wonder if her message should have been ‘if you really want to achieve that then you need to set goals to get there and persist or persevere.

    With my own children, I’m striving to develop self-regulated learners who will know that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and persevere. IQ and intelligence are only part of the puzzle to achieve academic and life success.

    Thanks again for this thought provoking post!

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