Inaugural PISA Data on Students’ Growth Mindset and Teaching Practices

Writing for the Fordham Institute,  Jeff Murray recently reviewed the results of a new Growth Mindset survey administered for the first time with the 2018 PISA assessment. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

For the 2018 administration of the test, PISA included a “growth mindset” instrument. Students who have this mindset believe that intelligence is malleable based on things like effort and the willingness to explore new ways to learn, as opposed to being fixed. PISA surveyed some 600,000 students in seventy-eight countries and economies across the world.

The study found that almost two out of three students who participated in PISA demonstrated a growth mindset. And that after controlling for students’ and schools’ socioeconomic differences, students with a strong growth mindset scored significantly higher on all subjects—31.5 points higher in reading on a 100 point scale, 27 points in science, and 23 points in math—compared with students who believed their intelligence was fixed. Across thirty-nine countries and economies, more girls had a growth mindset than boys, and girls got a larger boost in academic performance from having it.

However, the cultural differences between some countries were stark. In Estonia, Denmark, and Germany, for example, at least three-quarters of students reported having a growth mindset. And Estonia topped OECD countries on PISA overall in 2018. The performance gaps in reading were also the widest in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, where 70 percent of students demonstrated a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset in these countries scored around 60 points higher in reading than their counterparts. 

Teacher support proved closely connected to both students’ mindsets and their performance. Students with supportive teachers—that is, those who show interest in every student learning and a willingness to provide extra help and explanation until a student understands—were 4 percentage points more likely to have a growth mindset than those without a supportive instructor. In the United States, for example, students with a growth mindset outperformed those with a fixed mindset by 48 points in reading when they had low teacher support, but by 72 points when they had supportive teachers.

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