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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:

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