Character Point Average - Steve Barkley

Character Point Average

Should students know their CPA as well as their GPA?

I’ve just finished reading How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, where he poses:

“If you were a college-admissions director or a corporate human resources manager scheduling entry–level employees, wouldn’t you like to know which ones had scored highest in grit or optimism or zest?”
“If you were a parent, wouldn’t you want to know how your son or daughter stacked up against the rest of the class in character as well as reading levels?”

Reporting on work done at KIPP Academy middle school in South Bronx (mostly students from low income Black and Hispanic families) and the Riverdale Country School (tuition starts at $38,500 for kindergarten), Tough shares a list of character elements the two schools chose as a focus.

  • Grit
  • Self Control
  • Zest
  • Social Intelligence
  • Gratitude
  • Optimism
  • Curiosity

These seven were chosen from a list of 24. When asked if these traits can be taught, Tough answers, “I do think they can be taught in the classroom – I think most of us can think of a teacher in our past who helped us develop one or more of those skills”. 

You can view a panel discussion with Tough and others from the book here. NBC News Education Nation: Can Character Be Taught?

The work of Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth (see earlier blog on grit) feature strongly in this work on character. Tough quotes Duckworth on her view that we need to look at the students as well as the schools when addressing school reform:

“Learning is hard. True, learning is fun, exhilarating and gratifying—but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging…. To help chronically low- performing but intelligent students, educators and parents must first recognize that character is at least as important as intellect.”

Reading that quote, I found it interesting (based on my recent blog about working or learning) that Duckworth didn’t say learning is “hard work”…. learning itself can be hard.

Dominic Randolph, the headmaster at Riverdale, shares an interesting dilemma; “The best way for a young person to build character is for him to attempt something where there is a real and serious possibility of failure. The idea of building grit and building self–control is that you get through failure.”

To be successful you need to learn how to fail.

This past week I was engaged in a discussion about grading with high school teachers. One conversation concerned whether character (effort) should be included in assigning grades. The struggle is that teachers want to recognize and applaud  effort yet know that in a grade it confuses the clarity of the academic standard achieved. Perhaps a character report card, or profile, or at least conversation could be a solution.

I believe discussions identifying character traits teachers wish to develop (and how to develop) are worthwhile coaching, PLC, or faculty development activities.

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2 Responses to “ Character Point Average ”

  1. ronni Says:

    I was watching 60 minutes last night. Two gentleman were interviewed who were responsible for hiring at a Midwestern manufacturing plant. They claim they have jobs waiting to be filled, but can’t find skilled workers. Asked to define skilled workers, they said they needed workers with good math and problem solving skills. More importantly, they needed workers with a good work ethic-arriving on time, willing to be present and excited about working. These are character traits they look for in those applying for a training program offered by the community college, designed to have workers ready for jobs at their plant.

    In an article I read in Education Week, dated October 24th, Haut Gap Middle School in Charleston, SC, is teaching a 40 minute/day class for 9 weeks for students who”need extra time to nail concepts such as how to own up to mistakes, accept feedback, and apologize appropriately (Positive Behavioral Interventions- PBIS)The school reports that with this course, suspensions have decreased dramatically.

    This supports Steve’s blog’s statements that character skills can be taught and produce positive outcomes, especially job possibilities. We can make the argument that these are essential career ready skills we can’t ignore.

  2. ronni Says:

    PARCC Sets Benchmark to Define Academic Preparation Necessary for College and Career Readiness

    The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Governing Board and the PARCC Advisory Committee on College Readiness (ACCR) have established a common benchmark to define the academic preparation necessary for college and career readiness.

    Recently, the groups voted unanimously to adopt a College- and Career-Ready Determination (CCRD) policy and Policy-Level Performance Level Descriptors (PLDs). Agreement on a CCRD policy and the PLDs in mathematics and English language arts/literacy is a significant milestone in the development of the next generation assessments, according to a recent PARCC announcement.

    The CCRD policy defines the level of academic preparation in English language arts/literacy and mathematics students need to be successful in entry-level, credit-bearing courses in two- and four-year public institutions of higher education. Such institutions include technical colleges that award degrees or credentials aligned to entry requirements of middle- or high-skilled jobs.

    Further, students who achieve at the CCR level on the secondary assessments will be able to enter directly into certain entry-level, credit-bearing courses in those subject areas without needing to take placement tests.

    The CCRD policy recognizes the importance of academic preparation, but also notes that a focus on that area alone does not encompass the full range of knowledge, skills, and characteristics that students need to be successful. Skills and traits such as persistence, motivation, time management, employability skills and technical skills also are essential. The CCRDs aims to serve as one among many tactics to support students as they work to be college and career ready.

    Learn more at

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