Troubling the master narrative of “grit”: Counterstories of Black and Latinx Students with dis/abilities during an era of “high-stakes” testing


  • Adai Tefera Virginia Commonwealth University
  • David Hernández Saca University of Northern Iowa
  • Ashlee Lester Virginia Commonwealth University



high-stakes testing, grit, students of color with disabilities, urban schooling, Disability Studies in Education


In this study we trouble the notion of “grit” and “high-stakes” testing by focusing on the experiences and perspectives of Black and Latinx students labeled with dis/abilities with the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). Through interviews, focus groups, and classroom observations with 15 Black and Latinx students labeled with dis/abilities, we utilize the power of student voice and counterstories to problematize the master narrative of a “grit”/no “grit” binary in education policy discourse. This binary has contributed to an educational culture that reinforces victim blaming, reifies inequities for Black and Latinx students with dis/abilities, and undermines students’ emotional wellbeing. Harnessing the power of the students’ experiences and perspectives, we conclude with recommendations for policy and practice.


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Author Biographies

Adai Tefera, Virginia Commonwealth University

Adai is an assistant professor in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her scholarship focuses on how educational policies aimed at improving equity among students at the intersections of race, disability, language, and other sociocultural differences are enacted and experienced by educators, leaders, and students, particularly within classroom, school, and community contexts. A second strand of her scholarship focuses on knowledge mobilization – improving the accessibility and usability of research. She is particularly interested in studying knowledge mobilization efforts focused on the advancement of educational equity for historically marginalized learners.  

David Hernández Saca, University of Northern Iowa

David is an assistant professor at the University of Northern Iowa. The nucleus of his research agenda is problematizing the common sense assumptions of what learning disabilities are. His three lines of research are (a) the emotional impact of learning disability labeling on conceptions of self, (b) the role of emotion and affect in teacher learning about social justice issues, and (c) transition plans and programming for historically marginalized youth with disabilities at their intersections and their families.

Ashlee Lester, Virginia Commonwealth University

Ashlee is a doctoral student studying Educational Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Her research focuses largely on educational equity; predominantly in out of school spaces.  Her recent work has been two-fold in 1) investigating the role of adolescent engagement in afterschool programs, and 2) exploring the relationship between community level demographic shifts and exclusionary discipline practices.  




How to Cite

Tefera, A., Hernández Saca, D., & Lester, A. (2019). Troubling the master narrative of “grit”: Counterstories of Black and Latinx Students with dis/abilities during an era of “high-stakes” testing. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 27, 1.




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