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.

 

Teaching grit

Teachers can help students develop “non-cognitive” abilities such as adaptability, self-control and motivation, argues Northwestern’s C. Kirabo Jackson in a working paper, Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality.

Using 2005-10 North Carolina data on absenteeism, suspensions and grades as a proxy, Jackson finds non-cognitive factors predict college enrollment and lifetime earnings more strongly than cognitive ability, notes Education Gadfly.  Evaluating teachers on their affect on student test scores doesn’t capture their full contributions to student outcomes, Jackson concludes, suggesting evaluations should include teachers’ affect on student suspensions and absences.

I fore see problems. Student suspensions would be a less accurate way to measure students’ self-control if teachers knew they’d earn a higher rating — and perhaps more money — for a lower suspension rate. High school grades are a good way to predict college and career success since they measure work ethic and motivation as well as academic learning. But grade inflation would go wild if teachers were evaluated based on their students’ grades.

True Grit: Can Perseverance Be Taught? is the title of University of Pennsylvania Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth’s 2009 TED talk.

“Non-cognitive abilities” are ways of thinking, writes David Conley, a University of Oregon education professor, in an Ed Week commentary.

Are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration; setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy?

Executive functioning — the brain “monitors and adjusts to circumstances to accomplish specific aims and objectives” — is a critical part of the learning process, writes Conley.

Study: Parent aid lowers college grades

When parents pay their children’s college costs, students earn lower grades but are more likely to graduate, concludes a new study by Laura T. Hamilton, a sociology professor at University of California at Merced.

As parental aid increased, students’ GPAs decreased. “Students with parental support are best described as staying out of serious academic trouble, but dialing down their academic efforts,” Hamilton wrote.

Today’s college students spend an average of 28 hours a week on classes and studying — and 41 hours a week on social and recreational events, another study found.

According to Hamilton’s study, students with no parental aid in their first year of college had a 56.4 percent chance of graduating in five years, compared with 65.2 percent for students who received $12,000 in aid from their parents.

Grants and scholarships, work-study, student employment and veteran’s benefits do not have negative effects on student GPA, said Hamilton. Students may feel they’ve earned the money and take their responsibilities more seriously.

Got a D? Cut a class? Mom knows

More schools now let parents go online to track their children’s grades, attendance and homework completion, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In the past five years, the number of schools using such systems has more than tripled, to an estimated 25% to 35% of U.S. public schools, says Rich Bagin, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association in Rockville, Md. Parent use is likely to expand faster in coming years, as more take advantage of the systems’ mobile apps, Mr. Bagin says.

Some parents complain it’s too much information, while others love it.

John Patriarche, a construction consultant, tracks his 13-year-old daughter’s school performance.

Using the online data, “you can get ahead of it and help your child so they can turn it around before the final,” Mr. Patriarche says.

These days, schools are adopting “integrated über-systems that link class materials and assignments, gradebooks, discussion boards and blogs, attendance records, and school calendars.” Often “parents can request immediate texts or emails if their child is tardy or absent or receives a low grade.”

In a recent online poll of 115 parents by SheKnows, a website on parenting and lifestyle issues, 32% said online reports help them prod their children to study and get assignments in on time. But 49% said teachers don’t keep their pages updated, 14% said grade and assignment information is inaccurate and 15% said their children resent such monitoring efforts.

Charting students’ performance in real time — not just at the end of the grading period — means more work for teachers. Is it worth it? I’d think so, but I’d be interested to see what teachers and parents think.

Kohn: Failure’s not all that educational

Do kids really learn from failure?  Alfie Kohn, writing on The Answer Sheet, has his doubts.

Kohn, who’s argued that self-discipline is overrated, is reacting to belief that “what kids need to succeed is old-fashioned grit and perseverance, self-discipline and will power.” Children experience plenty of frustration and failure, he writes, and there’s no reason to think it leads to learning.

In fact, studies find that when kids fail, they tend to construct an image of themselves as incompetent and even helpless, which leads to more failure.  (They also come to prefer easier tasks and lose interest in whatever they’re doing.)  In one study, students were asked to solve problems that were rigged to ensure failure.  Then they were asked to solve problems that were clearly within their capabilities.  What happened?  Even the latter problems paralyzed them because a spiral of failure had been set into motion.

“Challenge — which carries with it a risk of failure — is a part of learning,” Kohn concedes. But quitters may be rejecting challenges that “aren’t particularly engaging or relevant.”

Or it may be that schools have focused students on grades, test scores and being the best rather than learning, Kohn writes.

If the goal is to get an A, then it’s rational to pick the easiest possible task.  Giving up altogether just takes this response to its logical conclusion.  “I’m no good at this, so why bother?” is not an unreasonable response when school is primarily about establishing how good you are.

We want students to “experience success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information,”  said Jerome Bruner, Kohn quotes.

That’s a marvelous way to think about reframing unsuccessful experiences:  My experiment, or my essay, didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, and the reason that happened offers valuable clues for how I might take a different approach tomorrow.

But schools aren’t structured that way, Kohn writes. Students see grades and test sores as rewards and punishments because that’s what they are.

How can schools teach students to learn from failure?

ES or N? DEM or PRG?

Instead of A’s, B’s, C’s or D’s , Montgomery County, Maryland students in first through third grades will get ES, P, I or N on their report cards, explains the Washington Post. ES means “exceptional,” P means “demonstrating proficiency,” I means “in progress,” and N means “not yet making progress or making minimal progress” toward meeting standards. DEM (demonstrating), PRG (progressing) or N (not yet evident) will be given for  “effort,” “intellectual risk taking” and “originality.”

Parents are confused by the “standards-based” grading system, reports the Post. No kidding!

Students will earn an ES, P, etc. in each of several categories in each subject area. “For example, social studies is divided into “measurement topics” of civics, culture, economics, geography and history,” reports the Post.

(GreatSchools’ Samantha Brown) Olivieri said more schools across the country are moving toward standards-based report cards to align with the adoption of Common Core standards, which focus on critical thinking and other higher-order skills students are expected to have in the “real world.”

“It’s not just about what letter we’re using or the grading systems,” Olivieri said. “It’s about the information inspiring action from parents to support their kids.”

Montgomery County plans to expand the new grades to fourth and fifth grade. Other districts are following suit.

But some parents think it’s the same old system with different letters, reports the Post.

Alicia White’s daughter is a third-grader at Dr. Sally K. Ride Elementary School. . . . “For her spelling test, my daughter came home with an I, and to me, I saw it and just [said], ‘That’s a C,’?” White said.

Another parent calls the new report cards “squishy” and say parents don’t know how to use the reports to help their children do better.

Teachers will have to spend more time grading in all the sub-categories, not to mention deciding who gets a DEM, PRG or N in “intellectual risk-taking” and “originality.” (How does one evaluate a first grader’s intellectual risk-taking?) Parents will have to spend more time analyzing the report card — or , at least, translating into A, B, C, D and F grades. Is it worth it?

Who needs remedial ed?

Prompted by research questioning the reliability of placement tests, Long Beach City College in California will use high school grades to decide whether students need remedial classes. Until now, some A and B students have failed placement tests while a small number of C and D students have passed.

Also on Community College Spotlight: California community colleges face a  $551 million funding swing depending on whether voters approve a tax measure on the November ballot.

Teachers confuse diligence, achievement

Teachers who base grades on homework confuse obedience with academic achievement, writes Education Realist.

Boosting hardworking students’ grades just a bit (say from one grade’s “+” to another grade’s “-”) is fine. While some may raise an eyebrow at the idea of giving a failing student a D- because he shows up and tries, I not only forgive this, but engage in the practice frequently.

Giving a student with mediocre math skills an A or B simply because they work hard and finish all their homework is quite another matter and worst of all, giving a low grade to students with excellent test performance—in many cases even failing the student—is outright fraud.

At many colleges and universities, remedial classes — especially in math — are filled with kids who got B’s in high school. Some of them didn’t even do all the homework. They did “extra credit” projects.

When the team wins, male GPAs lose

When the University of Oregon football team wins, male students’ grades decline, conclude economists who tracked the Ducks’ last nine seasons.

“Our estimates suggest male grades fall significantly with the success of the football team,” the research team, led by Jason Lindo, writes in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. Furthermore, the economists find this effect is “larger among students from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds, and those of relatively low ability.”

Lindo and his colleagues . . . compared grade point averages to the winning percentage of the school’s football team, which ranged over the years from 45 to 92 percent.

“We find that the team’s success significantly reduces male grades relative to female grades,” they write. “This phenomenon is only present in fall quarters, which coincide with the football season.”

Why? Young men drink more and study less to celebrate football victories. Their female classmates also party, but not as hard, surveys indicate.

What’s true for the University of Oregon probably is true for other state universities, the researchers believe.

Oregon is playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

Earlybirds get the A

College students who avoid early-morning classes get more sleep — and lower grades, concludes a study at St. Lawrence University.