Special Report
Student Well-Being

New Character Report Cards Rate Students on ‘Grit’

By Sarah D. Sparks — June 02, 2014 1 min read

Most school report cards contain a component for behavior or character, but the Character Lab at the University of Pennsylvania is looking for a more comprehensive approach to measuring and providing feedback on student motivation.

In partnership with the Knowledge Is Power Program charter school network and four other schools, the lab is completing its second year of field-testing a 24-item “character growth” report card, measuring eight character domains: zest, grit, interpersonal and academic self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity.

“They’re an end in themselves—it’s great to be curious just to be curious, great to be hopeful just to have hope—but they are also a means to getting these kids to succeed,” said David Levin, a KIPP co-founder.

Led by associate professor of psychology Angela L. Duckworth, the researchers have found that grit and self-control can predict students’ likelihood of performing well academically, graduating from high school, and going on to college.

To devise the report card, the researchers surveyed hundreds of secondary school students about the behaviors associated with the eight domains, then winnowed the list down to those clearly associated with school. Students are rated by their teachers on a 1-5 scale.

The Character Lab researchers are using the report cards to track both how closely the behaviors predict positive school outcomes and whether students can change their behaviors over time. KIPP and the other participating schools also see an opportunity to get students and staff members talking more about boosting internal motivation.

“If schools talk about this stuff at all, very often they’ll have a conduct grade,” Mr. Levin said. “When you talk about conduct, you’re really talking about compliance ... When people start to use character and strengths from the growth card, they start to have a broader definition of what this means.”

It’s too early to tell whether the ratings will increase high school graduation rates, but schools have started to see improvements in several areas associated with lower dropout rates, including academic achievement and students’ satisfaction with the school.

“By helping kids see a broader definition of who they are as people,” Mr. Levin said, “we are hoping it helps them become increasingly able to find their own sources of motivation.”

Coverage of school climate and student behavior and engagement is supported in part by grants from the Atlantic Philanthropies, the NoVo Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, and the California Endowment. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

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