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Should Students Be Graded on Character?

Posted October 3, 2011 2:46 PM by Mark Cutler

Over the past few years at Ascendant, while we have worked with education organizations such as the Rochester (NY), Atlanta, Ossining (NY), and Alexandria (VA) public school systems; the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE); and the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the performance measurement conversation inevitably turns to how best to measure student progress.

The common solutions tossed about include sticking to the traditional grading system, focusing on standardized test scores, tracking graduation rates or even following up with students several years after their cohort graduates to see what they are doing. One new suggestion I hadn't heard until I read about it in the September 18, 2011, issue of The New York Times Magazine is to measure them on character because, as Paul Tough says in his article "The Character Test," character may have as much to do with our children's success as grades.

The article describes the efforts of two school leaders--Dominic Randolph, headmaster the prestigious Riverdale Country School in New York City, and David Levin, co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools and the superintendent of KIPP's New York City schools--to understand the true importance of character, how it relates to future success, and determine whether it can be measured and taught in schools.

These educators believe that personal qualities such as grit, zest, curiosity, self-control, and gratitude may be better indicators of future success than I.Q. or standardized test scores. With this in mind, Levin established the first-ever "character report card" at the New York City KIPP schools.

Since this is a new approach to trying to measure how schools can help prepare students for future success, I am looking forward to hearing the results of this movement and seeing whether it catches on with a wider group of educators. In the meantime, I believe we need more educators like Levin and Randolph who are willing to diverge from the traditional path and experiment with different ways to improve our education system.