Grit Test: Education is Not Purely Academic, And Must Also Focus on Character


It is no secret to any educator that teachers teach more than just the standards. Every day, a teacher gives lessons on character, social interaction, and self-development. A New York Times article places emphasis on this idea. In the article, Dominic Randolph, the headmaster of Riverdale Country School, an elite private school, and David Levin, Co-Founder of KIPP Schools, express their concerns for the development of character in their students.

These schools teach socio-economically opposing students and have different concerns about their students' success in college. Nearly all of the Riverdale Country School students come from extremely affluent homes, go on to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc., but lack the development of a passion, a drive, or inspiration for what they want to do with their life. While the KIPP students come from economically disadvantaged homes, if they go to college they will likely be the first in their families to do so, but KIPP has found that even the students they get into college often fail to graduate. These two concerns led Randolph and Levine to push for a focus on character development as a part of their school curriculum.

They consulted a noted Psychologist, Martin Seligman, co-author of Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. After this conversation, both spent some time developing their plan of attack. In true KIPP fashion, Levine went to work on a new metric for assessing student character. Eventually settling on a modified version of Angela Duckworth’s Grit Test, a measure of a person’s commitment to long-term goals, in KIPP’s terms that goal was graduation from college. Both Randolph and Levine pushed these new metrics at their respective schools. Randolph received some pushback from parents who saw little need for such an assessment. However, at KIPP, the new assessment was met with open arms and a commitment to improving student performance. 

The point here is that students who have a stronger character are more committed to the goals that they set for themselves and demonstrate the determination to reach those goals are more likely to be successful than students who don’t. Although much of the discussion surrounding education reform is about academic performance, stellar academic performance is not a self-sufficient recipe for success. It is a reminder that schools are not just developing students, but people. These little people will one day be the majority of the citizens of our nation and it appears that we are not only failing them academically, but we are also leaving them with a chasm in their character. 

It is good to see that at least two school leaders are beginning to strategize about the character development of the students they are responsible for, but this should be a national discussion among all educators. Education is not limited to how well a student can choose between multiple choices on a standardized test, but how well a person is taught to choose between different life options, and teachers must teach both.

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