Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on intelligence, motivation and achievement has changed the thinking of educators around the globe – and now it’s helping to drive a first-in-the-nation experiment in seven of California’s largest school districts.

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Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on the “growth mindset” is one of the measures of student success in seven large school districts. Photo credit: EdSource Today/ Jane Meredith Adams

In a 2007 study, Dweck and her colleagues found that students who believed they could increase their intelligence worked harder in mathematics and outperformed peers of similar ability, who believed that intelligence was a fixed trait given at birth.

Dweck dubbed the belief that intelligence can be developed a “growth mindset” and has charted its power to shift students’ academic attitudes and achievements. This spring, students’ beliefs about intelligence are among the social and emotional factors to be measured in the new school rating system under development in the seven districts.

After receiving an unprecedented waiver from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, the districts are replacing standardized test scores as the sole measure of school success. Instead, the districts’ are developing a new accountability system that also includes school climate and culture measurements, suspension and expulsion rates, and the hard-to-define qualities of motivation, self-management, empathy and a growth mindset. With nearly 1 million students enrolled in the districts, the new accountability system is thought to be the largest effort to focus on and evaluate students’ habits of mind.

In a pilot test of measurement tools, the seven unified districts – Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, San Francisco, Santa Ana, Oakland and Sanger – are trying to figure out how to quantify these so-called non-cognitive factors. Together the districts formed a collaborative called CORE, or the California Office to Reform Education. Sacramento City Unified, an original member of CORE, announced in April that it will not seek an extension of the one-year waiver to the No Child Left Behind law – as the seven districts are planning to do – and will return to a standardized-test-based system of measuring school performance. The district remains part of the collaborative, though, and is continuing its interest in social and emotional learning.

“This is the first attempt to collect the data,” said Chris Gabrieli, chairman of Transforming Education, a nonprofit partner of the CORE collaboration. Because quantifying growth in non-cognitive skills is expected to be challenging, it’s one of the first areas the CORE districts are tackling. When the districts’ new School Quality Improvement Index is fully rolled out over the next two years, 20 percent of a school’s score will be measures of social and emotional factors, defined as non-cognitive skills and rates of absenteeism, suspensions and expulsions.

CORE's School Quality Improvement Index will be rolled out over the next two years. The 100-point index would include academic progress (60 percent), social and emotional factors (20 percent) and school climate and culture (20 percent) with weights of some measures to be determined. Many of these metrics are also required by the state as part of a district's Local Control and Accountability Plan under the new Local Control Funding Formula. (Source: California Office to Reform Education)

CORE’s School Quality Improvement Index will be rolled out over the next two years. The 100-point index would include academic progress (60 percent), social and emotional factors (20 percent) and school climate and culture (20 percent) with weights of some measures to be determined. Many of these metrics are also required by the state as part of a district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan under the new Local Control Funding Formula. (Source: California Office to Reform Education)

The measurement tools pilot is underway in 18 schools in the districts, with schools holding staff meetings to talk about how and why districts want to measure social and emotional skills. Because Dweck’s research on intelligence is accessible and seems to resonate, the schools are unrolling their new emphasis on social and emotional factors with an overview of Dweck’s work, said Noah Bookman, chief accountability officer at CORE.

“A growth mindset is something that makes so much sense in the world of education,” Bookman said. “Many teachers in classrooms every day use language that encourages a growth mindset. This is a way to recognize the work they are already doing and provide resources.”

Dweck’s research, which was included in the 2013 U.S. Department of Education brief “Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century,” investigates the power of the words we use to describe our talents and abilities. People with growth mindsets believe that our intelligence increases as we learn, Dweck said last month when she spoke at the San Francisco-based research organization WestEd’s annual forum. Challenges are welcomed as opportunities to work hard and figure things out. There is a lack of self-consciousness about making mistakes.

In contrast, a “fixed mindset” is the belief that we are born with a certain amount of intelligence and talent and “that’s it,” Dweck said. A fixed mindset is a mental trap, Dweck said, that can cause talented people to avoid challenges for fear of losing their identity as “smart.”

The fixed mindset approach is to “look smart at all costs,” she said. “Even more – never look dumb.” This is the mindset that saps students’ motivation, she said.

But she added, “The most important thing is this: We have discovered where these mindsets come from, how they work, and how to change them.”

As part of the 2007 study, Dweck and her colleagues found that a weekly session for eight weeks was enough to change motivation and performance for a group of low-achieving seventh-grade math students. Half of the students discussed the science of brain development – how brain cells make new and stronger connections as we learn, physically changing our neural pathways. They learned their intelligence was not fixed at birth – and they increased their effort and achievement, compared to the group that had not had a growth mindset lesson.

“L., who never puts in any extra effort and doesn’t turn in homework on time, actually stayed up late working for hours to finish an assignment early so I could review it and give him a chance to revise it,” wrote a math teacher who participated in the study. “He earned a B on the assignment (he had been getting C’s and lower.)”

In a CORE pilot test of assessment tools, students will complete questionnaires similar to, but not exactly the same as, the ones Dweck used in the 2007 study. Dweck’s questionnaires ask students to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with statements such as: “You have a certain amount of intelligence and you really can’t do much to change it” and “You can always greatly change how intelligent you are.”

The questionnaires will also explore goals for learning and beliefs about effort. Those statements will be similar to Dweck’s questions: “An important reason why I do my school work is because I like to learn new things” and “To tell the truth, when I work hard at my schoolwork, it makes me feel like I’m not very smart.”

Teachers may also complete questionnaires about their students’ attitudes.

While determining the correct measuring tools might be difficult, measuring social and emotional skills brings those issues to the attention of schools and teachers, Gabrieli said. “There is compelling evidence that these skills matter for students, both in academic success and in lifelong success, independent of academic success.”

“The most important thing about including social and emotional skills in the measurements is to help schools realize that students can vary widely on very important competencies,” he said.“It’s not to say that these skills alone will singlehandedly reverse student outcomes, but they will help.”

Jane Meredith Adams covers student health. Contact her or follow her @JaneAdams. Sign up here for EdHealth, EdSource Today’s free newsletter on student health.

 

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  1. Jim Mordecai 2 years ago2 years ago

    I didn't come close to getting former Governor Schwartznegger's name spelled correctly. I don't want my bad spelling to distract from people learning that Governernor Schwartznegger helped spawn the CORE group and the CORE group is a private entity--not an office of government--that is an important player shaping California public education policy, and implementation, from the shadows. CORE group is not directly connected with CORE standards, although as having an agenda of reform, … Read More

    I didn’t come close to getting former Governor Schwartznegger’s name spelled correctly. I don’t want my bad spelling to distract from people learning that Governernor Schwartznegger helped spawn the CORE group and the CORE group is a private entity–not an office of government–that is an important player shaping California public education policy, and implementation, from the shadows. CORE group is not directly connected with CORE standards, although as having an agenda of reform, they are a player in determining implementation of the Common Core State Standards from the shadows.

  2. Jim Mordecai 2 years ago2 years ago

    CORE is California Office to Reform Education. Sacramento office of CORE was organized into a corporate group by former Governor Sweitzneggar with the goal of reforming of California education. The directors of this corporation are ex-offiicio superintendents of the ten California School Districts mentioned in the article. These directors by virtue of being district superintendents have great influence on implementation of policies they are trying to reform or bend to their collective … Read More

    CORE is California Office to Reform Education. Sacramento office of CORE was organized into a corporate group by former Governor Sweitzneggar with the goal of reforming of California education. The directors of this corporation are ex-offiicio superintendents of the ten California School Districts mentioned in the article. These directors by virtue of being district superintendents have great influence on implementation of policies they are trying to reform or bend to their collective vision.

    Take note in the article that “CORE’s School Quality Improvement Index will be rolled out over the next two years. The 100-point index would include academic progress (60 percent), social and emotional factors (20 percent) and school climate and culture (20 percent) with weights of some measures to be determined. Many of these metrics are also required by the state as part of a district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan under the new Local Control Funding Formula. (Source: California Office to Reform Education).”

    Hard to measure the influence of CORE in establishing the metrics required by the state in district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan. But, it is clear that in the seven unified CORE districts mentioned these additional metrics are authored by CORE as basis of accountability system replacement for NCLB accountability system.

    I believe it is problematic to try to establish as metric for valuing district worth metrics based on attitudes and thoughts of students.

    Social engineering by testing requirements is troublesome enough. Understand, the CORE group is meeting as a private group hoping to engineer policies that will reform education and change the attitudes of students to attitudes the CORE group thinks students should have. But, when the social engineering by testing is orchestrated by a little known group of superintendents working on their private agenda, it is double troublesome.

    When California governance was turned down on its requested waiver of parts of NCLB by the Federal Department of Education some district superintendents wanted money that was attached to getting the waiver. The CORE group negotiated the waiver for 8 of the ten CORE superintendent’s districts with one district dropping out of the approved waiver. Granting of the waiver showed the influence of the little known CORE group.

    My concern is that the CORE influence remains mainly a stealth influence of a private group. And, advancing the agenda of a private group while serving in the key position of superintendent, in my judgment is serving two masters; the elected school board that hired the superintendent and the group values of the non-elected CORE group.

  3. Mardel Backes 3 years ago3 years ago

    I'm concerned that this is being presented as something new. All teachers, who are worth their salt, are already fully aware of the power of the words we use to describe our talents and abilities. Any seasoned teacher knows that if you convince a child they can do something they will rise to the occasion, barring any unique limiting factors. It goes without saying that as educators we have a fiduciary responsibility to our students … Read More

    I’m concerned that this is being presented as something new. All teachers, who are worth their salt, are already fully aware of the power of the words we use to describe our talents and abilities. Any seasoned teacher knows that if you convince a child they can do something they will rise to the occasion, barring any unique limiting factors. It goes without saying that as educators we have a fiduciary responsibility to our students to, at the very least, believe in our kids. We must lay before them an open road looming with possibilities. It literally hurts my heart that we need to create a field of study, complete with labels and catch phrases, to point out something so fundamentally obvious.

    Replies

    • David F 3 years ago3 years ago

      That's a gross oversimplification of Dweck's research which indicates that you haven't read it. Pick up _Mindset_, which is a popular non-fiction summary of her research. 1. What you are describing can also apply to the self-esteem movement that was popular in the 70's and beyond. What Dweck points out is that there is actually praise that is counter-productive. Positive support that is actually deleterious. Believing in our kids is not enough. The open … Read More

      That’s a gross oversimplification of Dweck’s research which indicates that you haven’t read it. Pick up _Mindset_, which is a popular non-fiction summary of her research.

      1. What you are describing can also apply to the self-esteem movement that was popular in the 70’s and beyond. What Dweck points out is that there is actually praise that is counter-productive. Positive support that is actually deleterious. Believing in our kids is not enough. The open road before them is not enough. The very way we encourage kids and the way we motivate them has huge impacts on how they will succeed in the long term. Some well-meaning techniques actually hurt.

      2. There has never been a focus at the district level to quantify the kinds of habits of mind that we all want our students to develop. That’s extraordinary, not obvious, and a tremendous change.