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Productive Persistence: A Practical Theory of Student Success

“Unproductive” Persistence
• • • • • 1000 Dev Ed Students 50% started college > 3 years ago 20% started college > 5 years ago 8% started college > 10 years ago 2.5% started college 20 years ago or more


“Do College”
• Started in 2009 as “Do College”
– 90-Day Cycle of inquiry that resulted in a framework, a sort of discipline inquiry period.
• Interviews • Research • Scans that had anything to do with student success, persistence, etc.

– Allowed them to test interventions in a mindful way


Productive Persistence:

Tenacity + Good Strategies


“Solutionitis:” The Search for the Perfect “Widget”:
Wrap-around supports Intrusive Advising Career planning

Study Skills
Proper Placement


Navigating the college campus Invest in Metacognitive monitoring of progress Faculty Development toward goals and of effectiveness of strategies Supplemental Instruction Peer tutors

Sense of self-efficacy
Student Cohorts Self Regulated Learning Mandatory Orientation Academic Counseling

Improvement Research: Our Proposed Way Forward

• What we know: Lots of things can work, under some (usually unspecified) set of conditions.


Improvement Research: Our Proposed Way Forward

• Carnegie asks: How can we distill the most promising ideas and make them work reliably, in the hands of diverse practitioners with diverse students in diverse contexts?
– Uri Treisman: We need to scale things that “mere mortals” can pull off.


Improvement Research: Our Proposed Way Forward

• Carnegie’s strategy:
– Think through which ideas drive success for our students in our colleges. – Create “practical” ways to precisely measure these ideas. – Cull promising ways to influence them, from research and practice. – Use improvement research to produce an evidence base for these practices:
• Geoff Cohen: Separate “common sense” from “common nonsense.”


3 Main Parts of Productive Persistence 1. Practical theory 2. Practical measures 3. Activities/interventions


3 Main Parts of Productive Persistence
1. Practical theory –
– Based on research and evidence from academic researchers and faculty practitioners (you need both) – Takes a chaotic messy field and breaks it up into smaller chunks you can work on – Approach: “What works for whom, under what conditions."

Primary Driver (Drivers of the solution)

Secondary Drivers Students feel that the professor cares that they, personally, succeed in the course and in college.

Productive Persistence Aim: Students continue to put forth effort during challenges and when they do so they use effective strategies.

Students have skills, habits and know-how to succeed in college setting.

Students believe they are capable of learning math. Students believe the course has value. Students feel socially tied to peers, faculty, and the course. Faculty and college support students’ skills and mindsets.

Students feel they are a necessary and important part of the classroom community. Students feel comfortable asking questions Students do not feel stigmatized due to membership in a negatively stereotyped group. Students do not question whether they belong.


3 Main Parts of Productive Persistence 2. Practical measures –
– Surveys on the first day of class and the third week - "You can't improve what you can't measure"


Productive Persistence Questions: 20 Item Test
• Interest: “Overall, how interesting are math and statistics to you?” • Fixed mindset: “Being a "math person" or not is something about you that you really can't change. Some people are good at math and other people aren’t.” • Anxiety: ”How anxious would you feel the moment before you got a math or statistics test back?” • Professors care: “How many of your college professors do you think would care whether you succeeded or failed in their classes?”

• Belonging uncertainty: “When you think about your college, how often, if ever, do you wonder: "Maybe I don't belong here?"
• Productive struggle: … “Knowing the right answer to a math problem without having to think about it, or knowing how to

Quantway: Validity of PP Measures
27 26

ES = .25** ES = .13***

ES = .10*

ES = -.13*

Baseline Math Test

25 24 23 22 21
22 23

Low (-1 SD)
23 23

High (+1 SD)

20 19
Mindset Belonging Interest Anxiety

Classes With High PP Levels Also Have High Persistence Rates
80% Persistence Rate (persistence to the next term) 70% 60%
59% 59%

r = .33

r = 34

r = .32

r = .46

50% 40%



Low (-1 SD) High (+1 SD)

20% 10% 0%





***Composite: t = 3.01, p < .005

3 Main Parts of Productive Persistence


Activities and Interventions –
– Initial improvable set of interventions developing and testing others – Bringing research and practitioners together to develop pilot interventions

Initial “Starting Strong Activities”
• Getting to know you activity

• Contract activity
• Mindset activity • Working in groups/Group roles • Why study statistics/mathematics? • Script for engaging in productive struggle

• Language script
• Syllabus activity

“Most people don’t know that when they practice and learn new things, parts of their brain change and get larger, a lot like the muscles do. This is true even for adults. So it’s not true that some people are stuck being “not smart” or “not math people.” You can improve your abilities a lot, as long as you practice and use good strategies.”

“I feel very confident … because i dedicate my time to learn the concepts thoroughly. I feel that if one person put in the work to really understand the concepts they can pass. I was never a "math person" but coming into Statway has completely made a 360 degree turn [sic] about how i feel about math. It is great!”
- Developmental Math Student in Statway


What Changed From Baseline to 3+ Weeks?
Interest Fixed Mindset Math Anxiety

ES = +.39***

ES = -.78***

ES = -.32***

Professors Care

Belonging Uncertainty

Productive Struggle

ES = +.65***

ES = -.26***

ES = +.08 n.s. What can we do better?

ES = Effect size in standard deviation units (Cohen’s D)

• Productive persistence matters for developmental math student performance
• Drivers of it can be measured quickly and validly • We need to get better at improving productive persistence. To do so, we’ll we need to continue measuring it.