The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2015, offers state and district leaders several new opportunities to promote student success. Education leaders have increased flexibility to design plans that emphasize a “well-rounded education,”1 and the new law provides state and local education agencies with ample room to allocate funding toward critical new programs and policies.

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Most notably, however, ESSA gives state and district leaders a unique chance to advance learning mindsets and skills through their reform efforts. A growing body of research shows that learning mindsets are malleable, not fixed. However, learning mindsets significantly depend on the conditions within a student’s learning environment and the messages students receive about their learning ability.

When educators nurture positive learning mindsets among their students, students are far better able to view new challenges as a natural part of the learning process. These positive mindsets, in turn, encourage them to develop better habits and skills that ultimately boost their classroom performance.

In the past few years, there has been a steady growth in programs, policies, and practices emphasizing learning mindsets, and there is now a good amount of research showing the impact of these reforms on student achievement and school climate.3 One recent study found that a “growth mindset” program increased the GPA of under-performing high school students.

This report also includes a set of recommendations for state and local education leaders seeking to prioritize students’ learning mindsets, noting the available opportunities and risks within ESSA:

Establish research-practice partnerships to pilot, test, develop, and scale promising programs and interventions related to learning mindsets and skills.

Adopt common measures of learning mindsets or related information for formative and diagnostic purposes, and refrain from using measures of learning mindsets in high-stakes accountability systems.

Revamp teacher preparation and professional development programs using the new science on learning mindsets and skills.

Target supports and interventions related to learning mindsets for school improvement purposes.

Fortunately, policymakers at all levels have clear opportunities under the new law to expand existing research and apply evidence-based interventions in support of students’ learning mindsets and skills, and the Every Student Succeeds Act provides fertile ground for policymakers who seek to prioritize students’ learning mindsets, skills, and habits and promote student success.

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