Does having a Growth Mindset correlate with higher academic achievement?

It appears not. We measured the “Growth Mindset” of 218 students using the following questions. In this blog I do a more detailed breakdown of results. 

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I would like to thank Panorama Student Surveys for publishing their measures of Social-Emotional Learning survey and allowing schools to use the questions.

The correlation between the “Academic Achievement” and other student data sets are shown.

As you can see the correlation between growth mindset and academic achievement at our school is quite low.

Academic Achievement
Work habits (Progress Score) 0.84
Task submission 0.70
ARCC Awards 0.46
Attendance 0.33
Co Curricula Points 0.29
Growth Mindset 0.10
Out of Uniforms -0.28
Lates -0.39
Misconducts -0.40


For those unfamiliar with what correlation means here is a quick summary.

Correlation coefficients are in the range of +1 to -1.

If two sets of data have a correlation of 1 it means there is a direct correlation between them. When one data set gets bigger so does the other. An example of this would be the relationship between the mass of water in a bottle vs the volume of water in a bottle.  When one goes up, so does the other in a direct relationship.

If a correlation coefficient is -1 it indicates as one set of data gets bigger the other will get smaller. An example of this would be the relationship between the number of cars on a freeway and the average speed of the cars. When the number of cars goes up the speed goes down.

If the correlation coefficient is 0 it means the two sets of data appear to have no effect on each other at all and may be unrelated.

The highest correlation we see in our school is between Academic Achievement and Work Habits. Progress score is our measure of work habits. At our school progress score is calculated every 5 weeks and is made up of teacher assessments of Effort, Behavior, Organization, Task Submission and Academic Progress. It is interesting that Effort and Behavior are specifically mentioned in the Growth Mindset questions but the students who believe they can significantly change these don’t perform better than those who feel these are not possible to change.

Task Submission has a high correlation with achievement. Task submission is a percentage measure of the rate of task completion. It is clear that “Those who do the work, do the learning.”

ARCC awards are given by teachers when students display the College Values of Achievement, Respect, Commitment and Community. There is a positive correlation between ARCC awards and achievement.

The correlation between Attendance and Achievement is not high. But the relationship between achievement and attendance is not straightforward. For students with attendance above 95% there is almost no correlation between Attendance and Achievement. Students with 95% attendance seem to do as well as students with 98% attendance who do as well as students with 100% attendance. Once attendance drops below 90% achievement begins to decline significantly.

Co-curricula points measure student’s participation in co-curricular activities like sport, drama, music, debating and leadership positions. There is a small positive correlation between participation in co-curricula activities and Academic Achievement.

Growth mindset comes next on the list. A correlation of positive 0.1 is almost no correlation at all. Students with a growth mindset seem to do just as well academically as those with a fixed mindset.

There is a negative correlation between achievement and being Late to Class, Out of Uniform and Misconducts.

I would love a dollar for every time I have had the discussion with students who are frequently out of uniform and they have made the point, “Being out of uniform doesn’t affect my learning”. Of course on one level they are correct. Correlation is not causation. Being out of uniform does not prevent a student from learning but I can now point out that “On average, students who are frequently out of uniform don’t do as well at school as those who are in uniform. There is a negative correlation between being out of uniform and Academic Achievement.” Not sure this will change their hearts and minds but it will be a teachable moment for me. I will launch into a fascinating explanation of correlation and causation and the nature of statistical analysis. They won’t want to be out of uniform again after I walk them through that one a couple of times.

Students who are frequently late to class, frequently out of uniform and have many misconducts don’t do as well at school. That is hardly a surprising finding.


So what do we do about all that?

Is Dweck’s Growth Mindset the next “learning styles” educational myth that is not supported by empirical evidence?

We all remember studying “Learning styles” at teachers college. Most of us who have been teaching for longer than 10 years can still remember the “talking head guru” Professional Development Day presenter who talked about activities that help the kinesthetic learners and the auditory learners and visual learners. We raced out and gave our students VKA Learning Styles Surveys to identify their preferred learning style. The problem was that delivering material to them in their preferred learning style didn’t actually improve learning.

The consensus view on learning styles now appears to be:

Do students have a preferred learning style? Yes

Does delivering content to students in their preferred learning style improve learning? No

I am not suggesting we put “Growth Mindset” in the same category as Learning Styles.

Much of Dweck’s evidence for Growth Mindset was done in a “pre and post test” methodology. She looked a group of students with similar mathematical ability and tracked their progress through Maths in Year 7 and 8. She found those with a “growth mindset” improved more than those with a fixed mindset, especially when confronted with difficult problems. The other studies that used some forms of control groups and experiment groups had the control group doing a normal program. The experimental group did the normal program plus some work on developing a growth mindset. The group that did the work on growth mindset not only developed more of growth mindset but they also performed better academically as well relative to the control group.

Should we be surprised that many students with a “fixed mindset” can do well at school? We have all taught students who when asked why they do well on a task say, “Because I’m smart.”

I am curious.

I want more information.

Is there a correlation between Academic Achievement and Growth Mindset? We certainly didn’t find one here. Was my method flawed? Are these mindset questions not a good measure?

My challenge to other schools: Measure student’s growth or fixed mindset and see if it correlates with academic achievement.

Tell me what you find.

Growth Mindset: Some baseline data.

Our school has done very little work on “Growth Mindset” with staff or with students.

We may be a little behind the times here as every other article, journal or conference seems to feature some reference to developing a “Growth Mindset” in students.

I decided to collect some baseline data on Growth Mindset among our students and staff.

My method was fairly crude. An 8 question survey attached to an online vote for our school leaders for 2016.

The question was:

Whether a person does well or poorly in school may depend on a lot of different things. You may feel that some of these things are easier for you to change than others. In school, how possible is it for you to change:

Not at all possible to change–(1) A little possible to change(2) Somewhat possible to change(3) Quite possible to change(4) Completely possible to change(5) Total Weighted Average
Behaving well in class 5.45%














Putting in a lot of effort 5.17%














How easily you give up 5.76%














Liking the subjects you are studying 5.42%














Your level of intelligence 7.58%














Being talented. 12.69%














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If our students and staff have  a growth mindset we should see most saying “Quite Possible To Change” or “Completely Possible to Change” for all characteristics. At first glance the figures look reasonably positive although I have no other schools data to compare it with.

Is there a standard survey by which a school can measure mindset and track its growth? Please comment below if you know of such an instrument, especially if it is free.

I have broken the data down by year level.

Response Being talented. Liking the subjects you are studying Your level of intelligence Putting in a lot of effort Behaving well in class How easily you give up
Year 7 3.16 3.49 3.41 3.94 3.91 3.85
Year 8 3.20 3.51 3.52 3.77 3.83 3.50
Year 9 2.69 3.10 3.18 3.58 3.58 3.63
Year 10 3.22 3.65 3.78 4.22 4.20 4.02
Year 11 2.82 3.43 3.10 3.83 3.94 3.59
Staff 3.46 4.09 3.57 4.72 4.76 4.63

We clearly have some work to do in developing a growth mindset in our Level 9’s.

Staff have a strong growth mindset which is pleasing.

Being intelligent and talented seems to be the lowest in terms of what both staff and students see as possible to change.

I was also interested to see whether a student’s mindset was correlated with their academic performance or with their learning behaviours.

We measure academic performance by their grades on reports. We measure learning behaviours by the rankings staff give students for Effort, Behaviour, Organisation, Task Submission and Academic Progress on Progress Reports.

One possible hypothesis is students with a high “growth mindset” will do better at school. Those that see the characteristics mentioned above as “Quite Possible” or “Completely Possible” to change would do better academically and have better work habits than those who see these characteristics as “A little” or “Not at all possible to change”. Do the students with a “fixed” rather than a “growth” mindset do better or worse at our school?


Let me crunch some numbers and I’ll get back to you.

Results are here.