Achievement as a Function of Effort – Reality or Myth?

While preparing to assign final grades for my three sections of algebra 1 students, I decided to see if their was any relationship between their classwork and assessment scores, where classwork used the average of eighteen different assignments and assessments used the eight different assessments given over the semester.   An x-y scatter plot of the two categories for 96 algebra 1 students follows.  The x-y scatter plot contains a linear trend line as a visual aid.  A correlation coefficient of 0.7 exists for the data.  A mean of 60% and a standard deviation of 20% exist for both classwork and assessments.

The data exhibit significant variation, especially midrange.  The uppermost, and lowermost, two deciles are much tighter.

Many hypotheses are possible for different interpretations of the data.  One could argue that there are distinct groupings of student achievement / effort that explain some of the dispersion in the data.  Consider the following segmentation, where the first attribute is classwork score and the second is assessment score.

  • Hi – Hi: Strivers – want the highest grade possible and put in the extra effort to get it coupled with the ability to learn and the discipline to pay attention, follow guidelines, and complete assignments
  • Hi – Lo: Motivated but Limited for some reason – dedicated and want to learn so they put in their best effort but need specific intervention in one or more areas to improve achievement
  • Lo – Hi: Gifted but Disenfranchised – knowledge comes easy so they can afford not to study or do classwork, and they are not overly concerned about grades
  • Lo – Lo: Demotivated and/or Challenged – have difficulty learning and may have given up on themselves and school

Each of these segments could arguably be identifiable in the data.  Others might as well.  Some might state that there is no significant relationship between effort and achievement, on average.

I believe effort does impact achievement.  I know it did for me in my life.  I also know people at both ends of the spectrum where effort played a major role in their station in life, for good and for bad.  Heterogeneous classrooms contain groupings like mentioned quite often, perhaps not as pronounced as the above data show, but clear nonetheless to a trained eye over the course of a semester.

The question before me is how do I best teach these students?  And what in the world can be done to raise the 70% of students scoring below 70% (a proxy for “proficient” à la ‘No Child Left Behind’) to proficiency?

I wonder whether methods taught in ed schools, or in districts by ed consultants, have any hope of reaching students effectively if each students’ unique circumstances are not taken into account, or at least methods that come closer to pyschographic segments like the ones mentioned above.  The business world discovered segmentation many decades ago.  Unfortunately, the ability for education to pursue a similar approach is constrained by current structure, policies, and processes, which are unlikely to change anytime soon given our nation’s fiscal woes.

Are we misleading students, parents, our community, and worse, ourselves, thinking we can make significant change with a one-size shoe fits all approach?  Or will we realize before it is too late that education as we know it must change to accommodate the diversity in our students?  Diversity in interests, desires, abilities, circumstances, etc. that lead to a well-rounded, well-balanced, highly sustainable society.  Or in our effort to establish educational clones, are we moving our country closer to a tipping point that spells an end to over two and a half centuries of progress and success?

I do not know.  I can tell you that it is clear to me that our educational system is broken in many ways, and it is not the fault of the person in the classroom trying to attain the near impossible, nor is it their principal, or district staff.  Perpetuating an anachronistic system may have worked in the past.  However, on so many measures today, it is failing all but the most élite in our country.  I believe inroads are being made, but at a glacial pace.  The one silver lining in our global recession is the ever-increasing belief that education must be improved, and hopefully, this time, more than edubabble will be applied to set us on a path forward where public education in the U.S. reigns supreme once again.

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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5 Responses to Achievement as a Function of Effort – Reality or Myth?

  1. Cal says:

    Your graph shows in vivid definition that effort is related only to individual achievement. Absolute achievement has no correlation to effort.


  2. Pingback: Homework and grades. « educationrealist

  3. xiousgeonz says:

    You also have to factor in validity of the assessment and the classwork, which would prob’ly have more funky errors in the midrange, where “sort of k nowing” and “sort of doing” will get middle results. The very high student could *score* midrange effort with a lot less genuine effort than the low one…


  4. Pingback: Earning One’s Stripes As a Teacher | Reflections of a Second-career Math Teacher

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