I was first exposed to Carol Dweck's research on fixed and growth mindsets a few years ago when I was completing some of my graduate coursework. For those of you who haven't heard about mindsets, you can find a lot of resources online (here and here to name a few).
Dweck's colleague, Jo Boaler, has completed some further research on mindsets and the implications in the classroom. If you're really interested in learning about mindsets in a mathematics classroom, I would recommend taking Stanford's free online class (sign up here).
In Dweck's Self-Theories book, she discusses the reaction of students with a helpless mindset (fixed mindset) when they experience failure. In short, when a student with a fixed mindset experiences failure they begin to fall into a helpless state of mind. They quickly lose confidence in their abilities and lose perspective on the successes they had achieved in the past. Moreover, many students who had fallen into the helpless mindset "abandoned or became incapable of deploying the effective strategies in their repertoire." (pg. 9)
After hearing that research, I grew concerned about students who have a fixed mindset and their ability to successfully complete the Smarter Balanced assessment. The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a computer adaptive test. Students are given grade-level questions for the first two-thirds of the test. Then the computer software selects remaining one-third of the questions based on the student responses up to that point. If a student is answering questions correctly, then the software can select questions from a higher grade level. Conversely, if a student is answering questions incorrectly, then the software can select questions from a lower grade level.
Theoretically, this type of testing system makes sense. It's designed to find the "boundary" of each students' achievement level. My concern lies with the students with fixed mindsets. For those students, the "boundary" is like an electric fence. The test is designed for students to eventually touch the fence. Once a student with a fixed mindset does touch it, the electrical current sends shocks throughout their body. They lose ability to focus on the problems and are more focused on how much the fence shocked them.
Dweck summarizes her research by saying "...the helpless response is a reaction to failure that carries negative implications for the self and that impairs students' ability to use their minds effectively." I fear the computer adaptive test could indirectly lead to major negative consequences for students with a fixed mindset.
What can we (teachers) do to help?
I think the best way to help combat this potential problem is to teach students about fixed and growth mindsets. I am planning to introduce these ideas during the first week of school in all of my classes. More to come as to what that will look like...
Dweck, Carol S. Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology, 1999. Print.