Promoting Growth Mindset through Assessment

  • Promoting Growth Mindset through Assessment

    By Dane Ehlert, posted September 14, 2015 –

    Growth mindset is a hot topic in education, but how do we promote it in our classrooms? What does it look like in everyday teaching practices?

    I’ve struggled through how to add a growth mindset into my classroom since my exposure to the research three years ago. What I’ve learned through my experience is that words are empty unless they are deeply embedded in practice.

    There are many ways that we can embed work on mindset, but I’m going to focus on the following three areas in my four blog posts.

    1. Assessment and evaluation

    2. Responding to student progress

    3. Curriculum and content

    In this post, I’ll focus on what I believe may be the greatest area of influence on student mindset: assessment and evaluation. In my opinion, the way we assess and evaluate our students might be the loudest action in our classroom.

    I’ve found that standards-based grading (SBG) is an effective system for promoting growth mindset. It allows students to make mistakes without penalty, and it enables them to easily determine how and where improvement can take place.


    Standards-based grading is a system that breaks the course into specific standards or desired learning goals for students to master. Here is a portion of the breakdown I use in my algebra 1 class.

    2015-09-14 art1        

    This doesn’t include every concept we teach but instead focuses on the big ideas we want our students to understand by the end of the school year. I like this because it allows students and teachers to quickly determine where improvement needs to take place. This fits well with the improvement and perseverance components in growth mindset.

    Once a concept is taught and learning has occurred, the teacher gives short, 3–6 question quizzes to assess student understanding of each concept. The quizzes usually happen every 7–10 days. However, when grading the quizzes, the number of correct responses doesn’t necessarily determine the grade. Instead, the teacher seeks to gain a holistic view of each student’s understanding. Here is an example quiz I give my classes (click here for all my quizzes).

    2015-09-14 art2  

    When I grade the quiz, I’m especially looking at the students’ thought processes and explanations to get a feel for their level of understanding. Because of this, I don’t give multiple-choice questions but do ask students to explain their reasoning for each response. I’m not too worried about how many questions are right or wrong because I can tell a lot just based on the work that is shown. In fact, there are many times when a student gets the answer wrong, but through the demonstrated work, I’m able to give the student a very high mark.

    2015-09-14 art3 

    Each student receives a grade from 5 to 10 that is determined by demonstrated learning. As the chart shows, the grade simply depends on the student’s level of understanding. This is helpful for growth mindset because grades are not based on point accumulation but instead on the learning that has been demonstrated. These grades show me how much my students have learned.


    The most important part of SBG for promoting growth mindset is the fact that I allow all students to retake any assessment as many times as he or she wants, once a day, until the end of the grading period. (Note: The retakes are not the same as the original.) Then, at the end, I only place the highest grade for each concept in the grade book. The lower scores are thrown out. The reason why this is so crucial is because it finally backs up my words, telling students to persevere and see mistakes as learning opportunities. If I don’t allow reassessment, then mistakes really aren’t a good thing in my classroom. How could they be?

    Before I used SBG, many of my students would make 30s and 40s on their tests. Knowing that this was a big percentage of their grade, almost all these students gave up after making these scores. I couldn’t blame them because they were using good math! As soon as they made the low grade, they realized that there was no chance of bringing it up to a satisfactory mark at the end of the grading period. Why try if there’s no way? This also took away any of my credibility when I told my students that mistakes are good to learn from because mistakes were never good on my assessments. They resulted in low grades.

    However, now that I allow retakes, a student can struggle on an initial assessment and not be out of the game. He or she can make mistakes, learn from them, work hard to persevere, strive toward greater learning, and finally be rewarded for their effort when they are reassessed. This is the most important growth mindset message in my classroom.

    As you can see, I’m a big proponent of SBG. However, even if this system isn’t for you, I would encourage you to have some sort of reassessment system in place for whatever grading method you use. To me, this is the best way to show students that mistakes are useful in math and perseverance is the path to success.

    2015-09 Elhert 

    Dane Ehlert,, is a secondary math teacher in Texas. He tweets at @DaneEhlert and blogs at


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    Eusebio Zavala - 9/26/2015 2:12:19 AM
    Our Math department has followed a similar strategy the last few years by allowing our students to correct wrong answers on tests for some additional points. We require that they give detailed explanations and show work when making their corrections. I agree that it helps students learn from their mistakes and persevere. It's been a great way to improve their learning. I plan to expand what we're doing now into a reassessment system as you have detailed. Thanks for sharing!