Dr. Tefera examines the impact of grit on students of color

Spotlight on SOE faculty research

Dr. Adai A. Tefera
Adai A. Tefera, Ph.D.

The amount of knowledge being generated by VCU School of Education faculty in published research goes beyond merely enhancing the school’s reputation – it is helping to shape the future of education itself. One recent example of this is the study below, co-authored by Dr. Adai Tefera, assistant professor in the Department of Foundations of Education, which examines the notion of "grit" and "high-stakes" testing by focusing on the experiences and perspectives of Black and Latinx students labeled with dis/abilities in California.


School of Education assistant professor Dr. Adai Tefera, Dr. David Hernández-Saca at the University of Northern Iowa, and SOE doctoral student Ashlee Lester found that the notion of "grit" ignores inequity and can have a negative impact on students, particularly students of color with dis/abilities.

Tefera and colleagues utilized counter-storytelling to examine grit and persistence among 15 Black and Latinx high school seniors at an urban high school in southern California. The seniors were exclusively those who spent the majority of the school day in special education classrooms, requiring more intense instructional support than was available in the general education classroom.

In California at the time of the study, all students, with rare exception, were required to pass the state high stakes test in order to graduate. This study was an investigation of the 15 students’ efforts to pass the high stakes test.

Some of the findings and conclusions from the study are: a) "grit" was not sufficient for many of the students to pass the high stakes test given lack of structural and material supports; b) the test undermined students’ emotional wellbeing; and c) education policies fail to recognize how students at the intersection of multiple identities (e.g., race and dis/ability) are often caught between converging and contradicting policies that fall short in addressing students’ multidimensional needs.

Link to full article: http://dx.doi.org/10.14507/epaa.26.3380


Tefera, A.A., Hernández-Saca, D., & Lester, A.M. (2018). Troubling the master narrative of “grit”: Counterstories of Black and Latinx Students with dis/abilities during an era of “highstakes” testing. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 27(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.14507/epaa.26.3380