Character Building May Be More Important Than Traditional Education For Improving Students Grades


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Character-building programs improve schools overall performance: Photo by Jenz Rötzsch

Can character-building classes actually improve test scores for kids?

The American educational system has been lagging behind the rest of the world in science and math scores for years. Several new innovations have been used to improve test scores and lifelong results of education, but many of these initiatives fail to increase student results. However, a new study from Oregon State University, examining the Positive Action program, shows that this one program is improving test scores and lifelong habits in students by adding in an emphasis on positive character traits.

Academic Achievements: Positive Action Program

Positive Action is a federally supported program that emphasizes building character as part of the curriculum. The program has received praise from the United States Department of Education for the work it has done in improving test results. Researcher Brian Flay of Oregon State University has been examining the effectiveness of the program in various locations, including in a published study that examined the Positive Action program in Chicago’s inner city school districts. Flay’s most recent study, entitled “Key to school improvement: reading, writing, arithmetic……. and character?” focused on 20 schools in Hawaii.

Decoded Science asked Dr. Flay what surprised him most about the Positive Action program. He wrote,

The design and philosophy of the Positive Action program leads one to expect changes in school climate, but seeing them in survey data collected by the school district (rather than researchers) was a surprise. 

Character building doesn't stop in the classroom: Photo by Boss1000

Student Achievement: Hawaii Results

Flay’s research showed improvements in academia by 9 percent over non-participants of the program. The research also showed a 21 percent improvement in overall school quality. In addition, suspensions were reduced by 72 percent and absenteeism was reduced 15 percent.

According to these results, the use of character building as an approach to education results in students who are more motivated to attend classes, and who perform well in classroom environments.

Character in the Classroom: Adapting to the New Environment

We asked Dr. Flay if younger students adapted to the new character building influences more easily than older students, who may be more set in their school and study habits. Dr. Flay’s response was,

The results reported from the Hawaii trail took 4 years to become significant (with the program provided in grades 2-5). In Chicago, only a few results were significant after 3 years, and many more after 6 years. I think level of exposure is more important than age.

Good Character Doesn’t Just Come From School

The level of exposure to a character-building environment does not have to stop when a student leaves the school. Parents can help their children learn valuable character-building lessons at home, as another method of improving the children’s academic performance throughout grades K-12 and onward.


Flay, B. (2011). Key to school improvement: reading, writing, arithmetic……. and character? (2011). Oregon State University Journal of School Health. Accessed January 5, 2012.

Positive Action. Positive Change Takes Positive Action. (2012) Accessed January 4, 2012.

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