Work habits separate thrivers, divers

Why do students who did well in high school fail in college? Good work habits distinguish “thrivers” from “divers,” concludes a University of Toronto study reported in the Washington Post.

Image result for bellyflopNew college students predicted they’d earn grade-point averages of 3.6, but averaged only 2.2 at the end of their first year.  Students with similar high school records had very different college outcomes.

Researchers analyzed “thrivers,” who did much better than their high school grades predicted, and “divers,” who did much worse. Most had been average students in high school: In college, the thrivers got A’s while the divers got F’s.

Divers were short on “conscientiousness.”

Compared with the average student, divers were less likely to describe themselves as organized or detail-oriented, less likely to say that they are prepared, that they follow a schedule or that they get work done right away. Divers were also more likely to say they crammed for exams and more likely to score highly on measures of impatience.

. . . Compared with the divers, the thrivers planned to study three additional hours a week, on average.

Some “personality traits, such as agreeableness (being kind and empathetic toward others), openness to new ideas (being imaginative and curious) or emotional stability (not being anxious or easily upset), did not appear to matter much in determining whether people were thrivers or divers,” writes Jeff Guo.

Work and study habits mattered a lot.

When Mom and Dad supervise schedules, homework and bed times, and teachers enforce attendance, students may earn decent grades without learning how to manage their time. Then they go to college and they’re lost.

Do I belong?

Victoria Baskerville, right, and BUILD Training Program colleague Isis Cabassa prepare dilutions in their SCI 101L class on Sept. 15, 2015, at University of Maryland--Baltimore County.

Isis Cabassa, left, and Victoria Baskerville, right, prepare dilutions in a University of Maryland–Baltimore County lab. First-generation and minority students, and female STEM students, may feel they don’t belong. Photo: Laura Ott

When students feel they don’t belong, it has “devastating effects on student motivation,” said Stanford psychologist Geoffrey Cohen in a talk at Yale recently. First-generation college students, women in math and science fields and African-Americans and Latinos on mostly white/Asian campuses may feel an “apartness” that makes it harder to engage in class and keep trying.

Transitions — from elementary school to junior high, from high school to college — are critical, writes Annie Murphy Paul.

Three interventions can counter the lack of belonging, says Cohen.

Students receiving feedback on an essay are told, “I’m giving you these comments because I have high standards and I know you can meet them.”

Students experiencing a transition are told, “It’s normal and natural not to feel comfortable in a new situation. It will get easier.”

Students facing a challenge are asked to write about a value that’s important to them, an exercise that leads them to feel that “I’m bigger than this. This challenge doesn’t define me.”

After a one-hour discussion of the college transition,black college students earned significantly higher grades, shrinking the minority achievement gap by 52 percent, according to research by Cohen and a colleague.

College helps students plan, succeed

Helping students set academic and career goals and make a plan is raising success rates at a Florida community college. Hiring more tutors and counselors helps too.

When students are struggling, community college instructors send “early alerts” to coaches who will offer help before the semester is doomed.

Involved dads raise college grads

Involved dads raise college grads, writes W. Bradford Wilcox in The Atlantic. “Young adults who as teens had involved fathers are significantly more likely to graduate from college,” even after controlling for family income, race and ethnicity.

Eighteen percent of teens said their father was not involved in their lives, writes Wilcox. He used “activities as playing a sport, receiving homework help, or talking about a personal problem with their biological, adoptive, or step-father” to divide the rest into groups with somewhat involved, involved, or highly involved fathers.

Compared to teens who reported that their fathers were not involved, teens with involved fathers were 98 percent more likely to graduate from college, and teens with very involved fathers were 105 percent more likely to graduate from college, controlling for respondent’s age, race, ethnicity, level of mother’s education, and household income as a teen.

. . . involved fathers may provide children with homework help, counsel, or knowledge that helps them excel in school. Second, involved fathers may help children steer clear of risky behaviors — from delinquency to teenage pregnancy — that might prevent them from completing college. Third, involved fathers may help foster an authoritative family environment (characterized by an appropriate mix of engagement, affection, and supervision) that is generally conducive to learning. Finally, involved fathers may be more likely to provide financial support to children seeking a college education.

College-educated parents are more likely to marry and stay together and earn a comfortable income, notes Wilcox. Paternal involvement is high. Young adults who’ve grown up in these affluent, intact, father-involved families are “triply advantaged.”

SAT (and IQ) scores predict success

The SAT should be “abandoned and replaced,” argues Leon Botstein, former president of Bard, in Time.

Look at “the complex portrait” of college applicants’ lives rather than their test scores, writes Jennifer Finney Boylan in the New York Times.

The test measures only SAT-taking skills, adds Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker.

Actually, the SAT predicts success in college “relatively well,” write David Z. Hambrick and Christopher Chabris, both psychology professors, in  Slate. It takes a few hours to administer and, unlike complex portraits, it can be scored in an objective way. 

SAT scores correlate very highly with IQ scores, they write. Harvard’s Howard Gardner, known for his theory of multiple intelligences, called the SAT and other measures “thinly disguised” intelligence tests.

A popular anti-SAT argument is that the test measures socioeconomic status rather than cognitive skill.

Boylan argued in her Times article that the SAT “favors the rich, who can afford preparatory crash courses” like those offered by Kaplan and the Princeton Review. Leon Botstein claimed in his Time article that “the only persistent statistical result from the SAT is the correlation between high income and high test scores.” And according to a Washington Post Wonkblog infographic (which is really more of a disinfographic) “your SAT score says more about your parents than about you.”

Test prep doesn’t make a big difference, write Hambrick and Chabris. And research shows a significant but “not huge” correlation between socioeconomic status and test scores. Plenty of low-income kids score well.

. .  .as it was originally designed to do, the SAT in fact goes a long way toward leveling the playing field, giving students an opportunity to distinguish themselves regardless of their background. Scoring well on the SAT may in fact be the only such opportunity for students who graduate from public high schools that are regarded by college admissions offices as academically weak.

“One person’s obstacle is another person’s springboard,” Dawn Harris Sherling wrote in response to Kolbert.

I am the daughter of a single, immigrant father who never attended college, and a good SAT score was one of the achievements that catapulted me into my state’s flagship university and, from there, on to medical school. Flawed though it is, the SAT afforded me, as it has thousands of others, a way to prove that a poor, public-school kid who never had any test prep can do just as well as, if not better than, her better-off peers.

Botstein advocates adjusting high school GPA “to account for the curriculum and academic programs in the high school from which a student graduates” and abandoning the SAT, note Hambrick and Chabris. “A given high school GPA would be adjusted down for a poor, public-school kid, and adjusted up for a rich, private-school kid.”

A commenter responds: “The idea that standardized tests and ‘general intelligence’ are meaningless is wishful thinking.  People find it cruel that something essentially beyond your control—intrinsic intelligence—could matter so much.  But it does.”

Another commenter writes: “It’s like trying to argue that looks are meaningless.  Yeah, it sucks for most of us, but doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

Study: High school grades predict college grades

College students admitted without submitting SAT or ACT scores do just as well as “submitters,” concludes a new study. Applicants with good high school grades will earn good college grades and complete a degree, said William Hiss, the study’s main author.  He is the former dean of admissions at Bates College in Maine, one of the first colleges to go test-optional.  

Defining Promise looks at students admitted to small, private liberal arts schools with test-optional policies and large public universities that admit most students based on high school grades and class rank.  (For the public universities, the study looked at admitted students with below-average test scores.) Also included were a few minority-serving institutions and two art schools.

Submitters had slightly higher high school grades and significantly lower test scores.  Their college grades and graduation rates were very similar to nonsubmitters’ success rates.

While many students outperformed their SAT or ACT scores, high school grades strongly predicted college success, the study found. 

. . .  kids who had low or modest test scores, but good high school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades.

Hiss says it’s probably not so surprising that a pattern of hard work, discipline and curiosity in high school shows up “as highly predictive, in contrast to what they do in three or four hours on a particular Saturday morning in a testing room.”

I can’t see elite colleges and universities going test optional: They have way too many straight-A applicants.

The SAT will be redesigned to “strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills” needed in college, said David Coleman, the new board president, in a letter to College Board members. Some believe the new SAT will look more like the ACT, which is gaining market share.

Coleman, a co-author of Common Core standards, has promised to “move beyond delivering assessments to delivering opportunity for students so they will be better prepared to succeed in college.” Nobody knows what “delivering opportunity” means, writes Alexander Russo.

Plan, persist and perform for college success

What aspects of background, personality or achievement predict high grades in college? Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham analyzes a meta-analysis of research on three categories of predictors: three demographic factors (age, sex, socioeconomic status); five traditional measures of cognitive ability or prior academic achievement (intelligence measures, high school GPA, SAT or ACT, A level points), and 42 non-intellectual measures of personality, motivation, learning strategies, approach to learning and psychosocial contextual influences. (He’s got a chart of all the factors.)

As they put the data together, the most important predictors of college grade point average are: your grades in high school, your score on the SAT or ACT, the extent to which you plan for and target specific grades, and your ability to persist in challenging academic situations.

“Broad personality traits, most motivation factors and learning strategies matter less than I would have guessed,” Willingham writes. Demographic and psychosocial factors and “approach to learning” didn’t matter at all.

 

Gray expectations

College success requires academic preparation — and understanding academic expectations.

In Teaching across the cultural divide, a foreign-born student with poor writing skills threatens to give the adjunct a bad online rating unless she gets an A.

Technology will help students succeed — but not yet

Technology will help college students succeed, but we’re years away from linking new tools to teaching and learning.

Also on Community College Spotlight: How to help immigrant students succeed in college.

Pomp, circumstance and then what?

Few high schools track graduates to see if they’re succeeding in college or careers. Some states are linking high school and college data to evaluate success rates.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Community college construction has stopped in Los Angeles. The district has billions in bond money, but can’t afford to pay for building maintenance or for instructors to use the new space.