We’re not looking at the complete picture when evaluating academic programs: we need to get down to the true nitty gritty!

In Shelly Engelman and Tom McKlin’s AE365 blog post “Grit” as a Measure of Academic Success, they identify that conative aspects of learning and achievement are underrepresented in evaluations of academic programming. These conative aspects of initiative, perseverance, and passion play a larger role in academic success than program evaluations tend to measure. Instead of including “grit”, program evaluations over emphasize the role of affective (attitude) and cognitive (intelligence) aspects.

Why is this an issue? Psychologists argue that grit (perseverance and passion for long-term goals) is the greatest predictor of success: more so than interest or IQ alone. Gritty students work harder, obtain more education in their lifetimes, and withstand gruelling tests with greater ease. The issue, then, is that any academic program evaluations performed are not worth the paper they’re printed on if grit is ignored.

Example: Imagine a situation where there are two highly intelligent individuals with good attitudes towards learning are pursuing the same goal; one has a lot of “grit” and the other success-and-failure-signdoes not. These individuals are being studied by two different research teams, neither or which have factored in for conative aspects of success. One individual is successful while
the other fails completely. The researchers examining the successful candidate will conclude that high intelligence and a positive attitude are sufficient for success. The team studying the unsuccessful candidate will conclude that high intelligence and attitude alone is either insufficient or is a deterrent for success. Neither study is correct.

When we evaluate academic programs, we must not forget to include the “grit” aspect. If grit is the greatest predictor of individual success, to evaluate anything without this input is foolish – a waste of time.

I can think of more than one conversation with parents of my students where they have said something like “My son/daughter is just too smart for the program. They’re bored in class, that’s why they’re not doing well.” Heck – I’m sure the same reasoning was used to defend me in the past. How often has that line been used? How often has anyone examined it critically?

success-vs-failure2Perhaps these parents are correct, that their children are bored… but given the research on grit – should we not at least consider this as a potential factor? Not as a defence against potential parental criticisms, but as an opportunity to support these students through difficulties. Intelligence and environmental factors which influence attitude/emotions matter – but so does a student’s drive to succeed.