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We propose to develop, validate, and disseminate a performance measure of academic diligence for middle school students. We define diligence as the disposition to work assiduously on tasks that are beneficial in the long run but tedious in the moment. The virtue of diligence is synonymous with the lay term “work ethic” and is related to (but not synonymous with) self-control and grit. If successful, this measure will provide researchers and educators an objective means of assessing the virtue of diligence in early adolescence. Beneficial in its own right, the measure will also demonstrate the promise of low-cost, high-fidelity behavioral measures of virtue.

We recently developed a performance measure of academic diligence in mathematics for high school seniors (Diligence Task 1.0) in a project supported by the Gates Foundation. Our measure was designed to mirror real-world situations where a student must make the difficult decision of completing a tedious skill-building task (e.g., single-digit subtraction problems) while forgoing the countless distractions of the digital age (e.g., YouTube videos, playing Tetris). A validation study on 826 twelfth grade students indicated that the measure has excellent convergent, discriminant, and predictive validity.

We are requesting funding to develop, refine, and validate Diligence Task 2.0. A crucial feature of our project is to increase the domain-generality of our measure to include verbal and spatial skill-building tasks in addition to the current math task. Secondly, we will adapt the task and distractor content for adolescents in middle school, a key inflection period during which some students begin to spiral downward in engagement and academic performance.

Anticipated concrete outcomes include Diligence Task 2.0, validation data, and peer-reviewed publications. We expect that our freely available validated measure of diligence will catalyze research on this significant but largely neglected virtue.