Cambridge, MA – A new study from the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University suggests some ways of balancing the nation’s emphasis on standardized test scores with other measurable learning outcomes. The study is entitled The Influence of Teaching Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency. The authors analyze Tripod student survey data from 16,000 sixth to ninth grade classrooms during the 2013-14 school year. The report reveals how distinct components of teaching help students become more conscientious, more focused on preparing for the future, and more convinced that smart is something that you become by working hard.

The need to balance multiple educational goals is being actively discussed nationally. According to Ronald Ferguson, the lead author, “Many events are pointing in the same direction. Just last week, the Council of the Great City Schools issued a report questioning the amount of time that students spend on testing of academic skills in large city school districts, and President Obama posted a Facebook video on the need to rebalance educational priorities in the ways that our study proposes.”

Ferguson is the faculty director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University and co-founder of the firm Tripod Education Partners. The surveys are used in many schools to provide personalized feedback to teachers on how students experience their classrooms. He says, “Teaching is more multifaceted than most of us tend to realize. We find that some aspects, such as how effectively a teacher challenges students to think carefully, work hard, and stay focused, predict how much students learn from one year to the next as measured by test scores. However other aspects, such as how personally a teacher connects with students and how interesting he or she makes lessons, predict how inspired students are to attend college. As the President suggests, we need to balance priorities, emphasizing academic skills and inspiration, not one or the other. Striking an appropriate balance will take more focused and timely supports for teachers, including more feedback from students.”

Commissioned by the Raikes Foundation, the study builds on work reported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project. MET reports showed, among other things, that classrooms in the study differed greatly from one another. Tripod measures of teaching helped predict why some produced greater gains on standardized tests. This new study establishes that the same measures of teaching can distinguish among classrooms regarding the development of beliefs, habits of mind, and success-oriented behaviors. According to Ferguson, “The new findings add to our knowledge of how to strike a balance in what we measure and prioritize in elementary and secondary school classrooms.”

The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University is dedicated to Excellence with Equity and strives to be a bridge from research to the worlds of policy and practice.

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