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The best predictor of student success is…

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The best way to predict a student’s success in later life isn’t their exam results or their NAPLAN score, it’s their attitude and their grasp of the basics like reading and writing according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Of course, one feeds into the other, better attitude, better results, better achievement later on, but having a foundation of a favourable disposition towards school and study sets you on a path to success. Results are a factor of that and not the other way around.

The research’s lead author Marion Spengler, PhD, said that specific behaviours in high school had long term effects on the student’s life. The paper was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Spengler and her coauthors analysed data collected by the American Institutes for Research from 346,660 US high school students in 1960, along with follow-up data from 81,912 of those students 11 years later and 1,952 of them 50 years later.

The initial high school phase measured a variety of student behaviors and attitudes as well as personality traits, cognitive abilities, parental socioeconomic status and demographic factors. The follow-up surveys measured overall educational attainment, income and occupational prestige.

The research indicated that being a responsible student, showing an interest in school and having fewer problems with reading and writing were all significantly associated with greater educational attainment and finding a more prestigious job both 11 years and 50 years after high school. These factors were also all associated with higher income at the 50-year mark. Most effects remained even when researchers controlled for parental socioeconomic status, cognitive ability and other broad personality traits such as conscientiousness.

Further analysis of the data suggested that much of the effect could be explained by overall educational achievement, according to Spengler.

"Student characteristics and behaviors were rewarded in high school and led to higher educational attainment, which in turn was related to greater occupational prestige and income later in life," she said. "This study highlights the possibility that certain behaviors at crucial periods could have long-term consequences for a person's life."


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