Key Questions

1. Are student noncognitive factors related to student grades?

2. Are classroom environments related to student noncognitive factors and to the grades students earn in their classes?

3. Do student noncognitive factors mediate the relationship between classroom context and student grades?


Recent years have seen a backlash against the prevalence of standardized tests in K-12 schools, coinciding with a growing appreciation for the many “noncognitive” factors that matter for young people’s school and life success, but that are not measured by cognitive tests. A growing body of evidence has shown that noncognitive factors, such as motivation, interest, effort, perseverance, attitude, and belief, play an integral role in shaping people’s educational and life outcomes and that these all develop alongside academic learning. Further, research shows that students’ course grades are more reflective of these noncognitive factors than are test scores. 

An interdisciplinary team of University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium) researchers designed the Becoming Effective Learners Student Survey (BEL-S)* to illuminate relationships among important student, classroom/instructional, and academic outcome variables. In the present study, we used these surveys and administrative data to test the relationships among categories of student noncognitive factors and students' course grades.  We tested whether four categories of noncognitive factors (academic mindsets, learning strategies, academic behaviors, and academic perseverance), as measured by self-report surveys in the context of specific classes, predicted students’ end-of-semester course grades in those classes. We also investigated the relationships between classroom environments and students’ self-reported noncognitive factors and their end-of-semester course grades.

* Note that the BEL-S survey was renamed the Cultivate Survey.

Key Findings

  • Students got higher grades in the class in which they reported having a better sense of belonging, better motivation, better self-regulation, better participation, in which they were more likely to delay gratification, more likely to use learning strategies, and/or are less inclined to avoid performance.
  • Classroom teachers and the learning environment they create can play an important role in supporting student motivation and broader noncognitive development. Students reported having higher, more positive noncognitive factors—including motivation to do well—in classroom environments which the student perceived more favorably.
  • Classroom environment is related to student grades through its effect on the noncognitive factors that shape student performance.

These initial findings from the BEL-S provide early evidence that student noncognitive factors are malleable within classrooms, and that teacher practice can influence their development in ways associated with students’ course performance. Given the strong evidence of the predictive power of course grades for students’ educational attainment and longer-term life outcomes, further research is needed on the role of teachers and classrooms in supporting students’ noncognitive development and academic performance.

A working paper is a work in progress intended to contribute to current conversations in research, policy, and practice in a timely manner. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed herein are preliminary thoughts solely of the author(s) and shared with permission of the author(s). These preliminary findings, interpretations, and conclusions may change upon further interrogation and collaboration with UChicago Consortium colleagues and other stakeholders in our work.