nslm wordmark

NSLM Wave 1

What did the mindset treatment entail?

Students completed two 30-minute online sessions in the classroom in which they completed lessons about how the brain was like a muscle that grows stronger when it learns (growth mindset) and how people can use a stronger brain to benefit others (purpose mindset). Students in the control group learned interesting information about the brain.

Who got the treatment and where?

Roughly 16,500 9th graders participated. They attended 76 regular public schools in the U.S. that agreed to participate. In those 76 schools, 98% of students did the treatment. The findings of the study apply to the roughly 3 million 9th grade students starting high school each year.

By “regular public high schools”, we mean those that begin in 9th grade and have more than 25 students. They do not include public charter schools, special population schools (i.e., schools for the deaf, schools for the blind), alternative schools, adult education institutions, or schools run by the Department of Defense or the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

What other information was gathered?

  • Students reported their growth mindsets, purposes for learning, and challenge-seeking.
  • Students reported their teachers’ mindsets and information about relationships with adults, such as whether adults treat them with respect, and whether they trust adults in the school.
  • Schools provided students’ grades in core classes (math, science, social studies, and English/Language Arts) from 8th and 9th grades, and chronic absenteeism / attendance.
  • Schools provided 10th grade course enrollments (e.g. Geometry vs. Algebra II / Trig).
  • Information about 9th grade math classrooms came from student surveys and from a survey of roughly 370 9th grade math teachers. It measured teacher mindsets and instructional practices.

Results of the Study

  1. Does the mindset treatment raise grades?
    • On average, the treatment increased core course grades, and reduced the rate of earning core course grades in the “D” or “F” range (below a 2.0). That is, the treatment improved 9th grade on-track rates. Note: Treatment effects significant at p<.005.
    • In line with the main study hypothesis, the treatment effect on core course grades was greater for students who, prior to the study, had relatively lower-achievement (the bottom half of students). African American, Latino/a, Native American, and would-be first-generation college students were more likely to be lower-achieving, so the treatment may improve the performance of critical sub-groups.
  2. Beyond grades, did the treatment increase motivation and course-taking?
    • The overall proportion of students with growth mindset beliefs increased from 50% to 66%.
    • The overall number of challenging math problems that students assigned themselves in the “make a math worksheet” task increased from 2.73 (out of 8) to 3.15.
    • There was overall increased enrollment the next academic year in Algebra II or higher—a key marker of college readiness.
  3. What kinds of schools had the biggest mindset treatment effects?
    • The treatment effect on the grades of lower-achieving students was most pronounced in schools that had a supportive school or classroom norm that emphasized a growth mindset.
    • So dedicated efforts to improve the growth-mindset-supportive environments in high schools could raise student achievement even further—something that our new network will do.

Questions that we plan to look into next

  1. Which kinds of teaching practice foster mindsets and improve subgroup outcomes?
    • A learning mindset might be most effective in a demanding course with a less than ideal motivational climate. Furthermore, a rigorous curriculum in a fixed mindset environment may not benefit under-represented students. A critical next step is to look closely at curricular content and teaching styles and how they foster or blunt the potential benefits of mindsets.
  2. Do mindset treatment effects make a difference in the long run?
    • Mindsets could affect long-term trajectories by improving shorter-term “gateways” (e.g., grades, course-taking), but empirical tests of this sequence are lacking. A critical next step, therefore, is to explore how mindsets raise the odds of positive educational outcomes (e.g., on-time high school graduation, college persistence) through interim steps (e.g., persistence in advanced coursework) that build on each other and create self-sustaining momentum.

So what's next?