Indigo Data

LeanLab and Indigo

Indigo participated in the Kansas City LeanLab Accelerator and conducted the following research study in partnership with the Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies.

The Average Student Myth

The Average Student Myth: A New Study Focuses on the Importance of the Individual in Education

By Sheri Smith

In his book, The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness, Harvard scientist Dr. Todd Rose examines  the idea that there is no average person and that by ignoring individual differences – and what makes us each distinctive – we overlook potential and talent.  The End of Average not only shows that there is no average person but also demonstrates the importance of nurturing traits that define each of us.  

Dr. Rose’s  work is part of a new field – the science of individuality— that looks for solutions to social problems by studying  individuals rather than group averages.  It is a recognition that each person has diverse talents. As the CEO of Indigo Education, I was curious to see if our own research would support Dr. Rose’s findings. I wanted to answer for myself whether the idea of the average student is really a myth.

The Indigo Assessment captured 150 dimensions of students – covering behaviors[1], motivators[2], soft skills[3], and perceptions[4]. The survey included four well-known corporate tools that have been used for the past 35 years. 

The results were striking.  Out of 15,012 students, not one fell into the average. Our analysis supported that the average student is indeed a myth.

Yet the education system is built on the myth that you can and should teach to the “average.” If a student does not fit into a very narrow mold measuring only academic performance, he or she is considered deficient.  Students have little time for learning what matters: relationship building, developing soft skills, tapping into self-knowledge, and understanding how to exercise their constitutional right for the pursuit of happiness. 

Ending average in education changes teacher training programs, what we spend our money and time on, how our schools look, how we measure success, how we define ourselves, and perhaps most importantly, how we give people the opportunity for leading a fulfilling life.   

The real change that needs to happen in education is not 1-to-1 laptops, some amazing new common core, or the perfect super school – it’s a mindset shift from the system to the individual. 

[1] Behaviors are measured by TTI’s DISC. DISC is a behavior assessment tool based on the DISC theory of psychologist William Moulton Marston, which centers on four different behavioral traits: dominance, influencing, steadiness, and compliance. This theory was then developed into a behavioral assessment tool by industrial psychologist Walter Vernon Clarke.

[2] The Indigo Motivators Assessment is based on the research of Dr. Eduard Spranger and Gordon Allport and their study of human value, motivation and drive.

[3] Soft Skills are measured using a Likert scale survey developed by Target Training International based on the most important soft skills for workplace success. 

[4] Perceptions are measured with TTI’s version of the Hartman Value Profile. It is based on the science of formal axiology, developed by Robert S. Hartman, providing rational answers to many of our questions about human values. Our values are the keys to our personalities, to self-knowledge, and to understanding others.

Assessment helps CSET engineer stronger students

Marette Hahn never will forget the day a freshly minted Grand Canyon University graduate dropped into her office, the big, bright, wide world rolling out the red carpet for him, spilling out all of its possibilities.

It was the summer after he graduated, his premed degree in biology still fresh in his hand. He was going to be a doctor.

His parents wanted him to be a doctor.

“But he had no desire to go into medical school,” Hahn said.

The student admitted to her, after four long years of climbing up that wall of chemistry and physics and calculus, “I hate it. I don’t want anything to do with it.”

Then came THE question: “Now what do I do?”

It wasn’t a fun conversation to have, Hahn said.

Members of the Canyon Activities Board took the Indigo Assessment, a comprehensive personality and career assessment, over the summer. Several Student Engagement groups and full-time employee groups at GCU have taken the survey to help with team-building.

These days, when the College of Science, Engineering and Technology student success specialist speaks to students, she often tells that story.

“I don’t want to have that conversation with you,” she tells them, at least not after they graduate: “I want to have that conversation with you while you’re a freshman or sophomore, while we still have time to figure it out.”

Stories like that are part of the reason why CSET takes a unique approach in serving its students and helping them find “their God-given purpose,” as CSET Dean Dr. Mark Wooden calls it.

Personality survey on steroids

It was in 2015, when GCU built its engineering programs, that the college started using the Indigo Project’s Indigo Assessment, a comprehensive career and personality assessment the department gives to its freshman engineering students.

This year’s cohort has until Sunday to take the survey before Hahn starts making her rounds in the engineering classrooms on Monday to “debrief” students on the results.

CSET Dean Dr. Mark Wooden said the assessment helps incoming engineering students determine early on whether their choice of an engineering major is truly in line with their internal motivators.

CSET is the only college on campus to incorporate an assessment like this into the curriculum, though Career Services does offer Career Compass to all GCU students who are trying to find a career path.

Just call it a personality and career survey on steroids.

“We were looking for something that would help incoming students determine early on whether their choice of an engineering major was truly in line with their internal motivators and capitalized on their unique strengths,” Wooden said.

Even if the student hasn’t asked, “Do I have the personal disposition and skills for the field I’ve chosen?” Or, “Will I be entering a career truly meant for me?” Wooden said, no problem. The department is asking – and answering – those questions through the survey.

More than academics

When helping craft the engineering program, Dr. Michael Sheller, Associate Dean of Engineering at the time, wanted the program to be more than merely academics.

“He wanted these engineers to graduate as well-rounded professionals ready to enter the workforce, and not a lot of college students have those professional skills,” said Hahn, who worked in Career Services before moving to CSET. “They don’t have enough experience, so he was really interested in trying to build, essentially, the career-development pieces into the curriculum. So rather than them having to go out and seek out that kind of assistance and guidance, it was just built in there for them.”

Such assessments have been used in corporate America for development training for decades. But in recent years, organizations such as the Indigo Project have found value in assessing college and high school students, too, and making them self-aware.

Not that the assessment’s value is just in suggesting career choices. It also gives insights into what motivates people, what value they have on a team and even how to improve their study skills.

The assessment incorporates the DISC model, which outlines four behavioral styles — dominant, influencing, steady and compliant.

The survey, which analyzes a person’s behavioral style, motivators, social emotional perceptions and 21st-century skills, takes about 45 minutes to complete. It asks students to rank, for example, what’s most important to them out of a list of 20 or so possibilities. Would it be a new car that’s ranked at No. 1? Or helping others? The survey wants to know if you value beautiful surroundings or if you like learning just for learning’s sake.

After completing the assessment, students receive a more than 20-page report detailing their top five skills, motivators, their strengths and their value to a team.

“It’s scary how accurate it is,” Hahn said of her own Indigo report.

A major part of the assessment is the DISC Model, which divides people into their behavioral styles: dominant, influencing, steady or compliant.

High dominants are big-picture risk-takers and go-getters, while low D’s are the more team-oriented peacekeepers.

Influencers are the enthusiastic ones who need to be in an environment where they’re working with people. “High I’s are going to be the people who talk to people on the plane sitting next to them,” Hahn said.

Those who score high in steadiness are loyal, calm, reliable and consistent — the ones who drive the same way to work every single day – while low S-scale people need constant change.

Those who are high on the C-scale, or compliance scale, want to know exactly what is expected of them. However, low C’s are “going to find a workaround; they’re still going to try to get that end result, but they’re going to get it in a different way,” Hahn said.

Building teams

Mechanical engineering technology professor Dina Higgins has used results from the Indigo Assessment to build student teams, particularly lab groups.

Mechanical engineering technology professor Dina Higgins

“That’s the biggest thing we do with it,” she said of herself and fellow engineering professors. “I put a group together based on Indigo results. … It’s interesting, because you can form groups in different ways.”

She said she has put teams together made up of members who all were congenial types that got along well. But that combination hasn’t always yielded the best results.

“The group didn’t have the person that says, ‘Hey, we’ve got a deadline. We’ve got to go!’”

Faculty have access to a dashboard and can pull up students’ profiles, see their classes, get a sense for their behavioral styles and put together effective teams based just on communication style, for example.

As for how the assessment helps students, Higgins said that those who might have doubted their choice in their career path will see their attributes highlighted in writing: “I think it’s a real good morale-builder. They realize they do have those tools to be successful. It’s like their swagger comes back,” she said.

Higgins has taken the survey herself. It helped her realize why she wasn’t the best fit for a business-development job she once had. She was good at the educational portion of that job but said she never wanted to close the sale. Looking at her Indigo results, she was reminded how money isn’t a motivator for her.

“Of course!” she said of that revelation. “Even as old as you might be, you still can learn things.”

She loves the “time-wasters” portion of the assessment, too, which details for the user what might hinder someone from maximizing their time.

Higgins said the DISC Model has been used in the corporate world for years. Having taken this sort of assessment in college gives students an advantage. They might, for example, realize their boss is a certain behavioral type and will know when to back off.

That kind of knowledge, Higgins said, “is empowering for a student.”

Team dynamics

While CSET is the only college to incorporate the Indigo Assessment into its curriculum, it isn’t the only department on campus using the survey. After hearing about the test, other groups on campus have been interested in taking the assessment, too.

CSET has collaborated with Student Engagement to help facilitate that.

The Associated Students of GCU, for one, “fell in love with it,” Hahn said. She has completed Indigo Assessment training with not just ASGCU but with the Canyon Activities Board, Freshmen Class Council and full-time staff, too.

“I just love doing those presentations so much because there’s so much clicking that happens. People will say, ‘Oh, that makes so much sense,’” she said. “It’s a little bit of personal awareness and development, but also some team dynamics as well.”

The Indigo Assessment is incorporated into the freshman engineering curriculum.

Rizella Espiritu, ASGCU club advocate and a sophomore nursing student, took the assessment with fellow ASGCU members during leadership training at the end of summer. The students shared their results with each other and attended roundtable discussions.

“A big part of it was to learn from each other and learn how we work differently,” Espiritu said.

Fellow ASGCU club advocate Madison Wade, sophomore environmental science student, said the test helped the team “get the best work out of each other.”

ASGCU’s Lexi King, a sophomore studying psychology, said the value in the assessment for her was it “helped us to know how to interact with each other.”

While the group used the survey mainly for team-building, King said it also guided them toward careers that meld with their personalities: “It helped you to know what environment you work best in,” she said.

Not that the assessment’s career guidance is an absolute be all, end all. Hahn said that whatever the Indigo report says, students ultimately have the power to decide what they’ll be doing after they leave the GCU campus, and they have their career and personality assessment as a tool to help them make those decisions.

“It’s not that you can’t do it. It’s that you’re really going to have to push yourself to do it if it doesn’t come naturally to you,” she said.

While engineers are high in steadiness and compliance, Higgins said she doesn’t fit the mold. She scores extremely high as an influencer and is an enthusiastic people person. 

“Engineering is not on my Indigo Assessment list for jobs,” she said, making this point to her freshman engineering students: “When you get this (Indigo Assessment) over the weekend, if the word engineering isn’t on there, don’t freak out. … We’ve got three engineers (on the faculty) who are high I’s. That’s not an engineering personality.”

So many different things go into engineering, she pointed out. For her, when it comes to an “engineering personality,” really, “There isn’t one.”

What there is is the knowledge that the world still will be rolling out that red carpet and spilling out all of its possibilities.

Click here to see article on GCU.

What is ‘Non-Academic Data’?

A big part of the work Indigo does is providing schools ‘non-academic data’ that can be used to connect better with students and personalize education. But this begs an obvious question: what the heck is ‘non-academic data’?

It’s a question we get a lot at Indigo, and we understand. The phrase ‘non-academic data’ sounds like it should be in the small print of a nutrition facts next to words like ‘Dietary Fiber’ or ‘Vitamin B2’. It’s not the kind of term that gets thrown around in everyday life.

Here’s how we like to think about it at Indigo. Remember the buzzword ‘Big Data’ that took off a few years ago? What we do is human big data. We look at the behaviors, motivators, skills, and strengths of students, teachers, and administrators to identify trends that are going on in classrooms, schools, and districts.

So there’s academic data like grades, scholarship dollars, and ACT scores; and then there’s everything else. At Indigo, we focus on everything else.

But again, it begs yet another question: what can you do with non-academic data?

The short answer: *a lot*

The long answer: we’re still learning all the ways it intersects with education, and we’re looking to some of our most innovative schools to work with us in discovering them. Here’s just a few ways Indigo is leveraging non-academic data to make a big impact:

1. Classroom Analytics

If you’re a teacher, then you get it: some years, you get that fifth period class that seems to be full of troublemakers. What makes them different than your second period students who are always kind, polite, and write assignments in legible handwriting?

With Indigo data, teachers can see what makes each classroom unique and understand how the students in the room perceive their own behaviors and motivators. It gives teachers the ‘in’ to learn about their students faster and troubleshoot ways to make each class a success.


2. Mentor Pairing

We all love mentor-mentee programs. It’s just cool to see a senior pouring into a freshman’s life. Imagine if you could match students even more intelligently?

By looking at motivators, educators can find students who connect with each other. Instead of just pairing up a senior and a freshman because they are both in the yearbook club, what if you could pair them up because of a shared, mutual desire to find balance and harmony in the world?


3. Grade Correlations

We’ve been doing a lot of exciting work on the university level with this. We all want to know why certain students ace, and others drop out. Student success is an ever-evolving Rubik’s Cube, and there is no copy-and-paste answer that meets all schools and cultures. But what if you could diagnose the symptoms of success in your school?

By lining up Indigo data with grades, we can look for trends in academic success. For example, the students who are getting the most A’s may be the students who are high in Compliance (detail-oriented, logical, cautious), while students who are getting mostly C’s and D’s may be higher in Influencing (talkative, relationship-focused, easily distracted).

From there, helping the high Influencing students succeed is just a matter of reorienting the lesson plans to involve more group discussion and collaboration. Educators using Indigo can make smarter, faster bets on how to improve failing students.


4. Teacher Coaching

We’re always growing and learning as adults. We want to find new ways to succeed using our strengths. Some of our best schools are using Indigo to have positive, teacher-initiated conversations about how Indigo can be used to help teachers continue growing.

Here’s an easy example: one teacher we worked with was 98 out of 100 in Dominance (direct, competitive, blunt). This teacher realized they had a gift at teaching in front of large groups, and that they should seek out more opportunities to get in front of larger groups of students. Even a conversation as simple as that can help orient an educator toward their strengths.

It doesn’t matter how old you are – we all can benefit from honest conversations about ways to use our strengths!


5. College and Career Counseling

You want to push forward your college and career advising game into the next century? Use Indigo data. If you can help students identify what type of environments fit their communication styles (Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness, Compliance) and what gets them excited in life (Motivators), you can radically change the effectiveness of your advising center.

Not only can it help students find out faster what they want to do (shortening the amount of time it takes counselors to get students to that “aha!” moment), but it can help students get placed in future paths that they’ll stick with (increasing retention and success at the next step). Our Director of Training and Advising works with dozens of counselors across the United States to help them make the transition into using Indigo’s non-academic data as a cutting edge college and career tool.

So what really is ‘non-academic data’? It’s part of the solution to modernizing education. It’s the foundation of what the Whole Child Initiative will one day lead us into as country. Successful education will always be relationship based, and human big data will help educators reach more students better, faster, with a lasting impact.

To learn more about how Indigo can work with your school to bring human big data to your school, contact us at!


New Motivator Research: Aesthetics Matter for High School Students

New Motivator Research: Aesthetics Matter for High School Students

March 14th 2015, Written by Marie Campbell

Indigo recently administered the Indigo Assessment to students at two high schools, one a suburban charter school and the other an inner-city charter school in Denver. While these controlled groups cannot be considered indicative of all high schools across the nation—at least until further research is performed—initial findings reveal unusually high levels of the Aesthetic motivator among the two student bodies.

The Indigo Assessment measures motivators as described in the work of Drs. Eduard Spranger and Gordon Allport in their study of human value, motivation, and drive. In short, motivators describe why people do things: the internal desires that drive behavior. For example, the Aesthetic motivator indicates a desire for harmony and beauty, whereas the Theoretical motivator describes those who learn for the sake of knowledge. Other motivators include Utilitarian (those motivated by tangible results and productivity), Social (desire to help others), Individualistic (power, leadership, self-advancement), and Traditional (motivated by beliefs or value systems).

According to Indigo’s initial findings, both schools rank unusually high in Aesthetic compared to the national mean. See the results from one school below. (Difference between high schoolers and adults reaches almost two full standard deviations.)

While these findings are, as yet, too limited to warrant sweeping assertions, one possible conclusion is that high school students respond to aesthetics more strongly than adults. If this is the case, courses in music, the arts, and environmental awareness become integral for student success.

Indigo has already seen positive results from this data, proving that simple interventions based on motivational clues can result in rapid student progress. For example, one sophomore earning a failing grade in math ranked unusually high in the Aesthetic motivator. Noting her passion for aesthetics, a guidance counselor asked how the class environment might be affecting her ability to learn.  She quickly blurted out that the room was a disaster; as soon as she entered the classroom, she couldn’t think.  The guidance counselor asked the teacher to clean up the room, and immediately this young woman’s grades went up.

Results like this reveal just how important it is for educators to understand what truly motivates students—those internal desires that drive students to learn. Indigo looks forward to expanding research in this area.

New Research Spots Critical Resiliency Gap Among Low-Income Students

New Research Spots Critical Gap Among Low-Income Students

January 28th 2015, Written by Marie Campbell

Today’s educators are beginning to understand that student success—that is, the kind of success that carries into all of adult life—has less to do with skills in vocabulary, mathematics, or the sciences, and more to do with basic, personal skills such as emotional control and the ability to plan for the future. As Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed (2012), declares in an interview, “We don’t teach the most important skills”—skills like “persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence” (qtd. Vander Ark). These non-academic competencies enable students to one day apply for and hold jobs, foster healthy relationships, and participate in politics. Here at Indigo, we call these competencies “21st century skills,” and we believe they affect every area of students’ lives, both academic and personal. It is lack of these skills, more than any other factor, that creates a false divide between low- and high-income students.

Indigo is continually seeking solutions to income disparity in secondary and post-secondary education. It is our hope that through the use of non-academic data, we will enable educators to close the rich/poor gap currently affecting college attendance and completion rates. In pursuit of this goal, Indigo researchers recently administered the Indigo Assessment to two high schools, one a suburban charter school and the other an inner-city charter school in Denver.

While these controlled groups cannot be considered indicative of all high schools across the nation—at least until further research is performed—initial findings suggest an extreme disparity between low- and high-income students when it comes to non-academic skills.

As seen in the chart below, areas of weakness for low-income students include Persuasion, Problem Solving, Self-Management, and Creativity—all basic skills necessary for academic success. In these areas, suburban students score almost a full standard deviation ahead of their inner-city peers.

Resiliency represents another area of concern for inner-city students. As the following chart displays, inner-city students fall two full standard deviations below national average. While adults score an average of 7.2 for Resiliency, inner-city students score only 5.3.

In fact, both high schools rank significantly lower than the national (adult) average, suggesting that high school students may have a harder time recovering from adversity than adults. (Please note: This claim requires more research to become verifiable.)

Resiliency has long been on the educational radar as a critical skill for student success. Bonnie Benard, in a 1995 edition of the ERIC Digest, defines resiliency as the internal property “by which we are able to develop social competence, problem-solving skills, a critical consciousness, autonomy, and a sense of purpose.” Benard argues that healthy school environments can contribute powerfully to the development of student resiliency, encouraging schools to “establish high expectations for all youth” and foster caring student-teacher relationships. Indigo’s findings fully support these long-established claims while highlighting one vital element: the acute lack of Resiliency among underprivileged students.

While specific curriculum interventions have not yet been developed for increasing scores in non-academic competencies, Indigo does see a correlation between student success and the ability of educators to focus on students’ strengths.  For example, eight high-school students in a pilot program went from 30 failing grades to 3 in just ten weeks—all from simple, weekly lunch meetings.  These students took the Indigo Assessment during the first lunch meeting; in the second meeting, Indigo staff explained their reports.  The remaining 8 sessions used a group-discussion forum to highlight specific strengths for each student, never once mentioning students’ weaknesses or attempting remediation. At the end of this 10-week period, all of the students’ grades had gone up.

According to a recent New York Times article, this type of intervention is also seeing positive results among first-generation college students at University of Texas Austin.  Chemistry professor David Laude found that many of his low-performing students—students with scores of D or F—came from low-income families (Tough, “Who Gets to Graduate?”). Laude believed these students were capable of success; they simply lacked self-confidence. He therefore formed smaller class sections for low-performing students, hoping to foster a sense of belonging and battle self-doubt. Laude soon saw low-income students rise to the level of their high-income peers (Tough). Thanks to Laude, U.T. has developed a scholarship program called Dashboard. The central strategy: “Select the students who are least likely to do well, but in all your communications with them, convey the idea that you . . . are confident they can succeed” (Tough). Through group discussions, lectures, and community service projects (Tough), Dashboard sees low-performing students become confident, successful student leaders.

Indigo hopes to continue working with the inner-city school measured above, developing new curricula to foster critical 21st century skills.

Works Cited

Benard, Bonnie. “Fostering Resilience in Children.” ERIC Digest (Aug. 1995): n. pag. Web. 21

Oct. 2014.

Tough, Paul. “Who Gets to Graduate?” The New York Times. N.p., 15 May 2014. Web. 12 Nov.


Vander Ark, Tom. “How Children Succeed: Attachment, Advisory & Adversity.” Getting

Smart. N.p., 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

New DISC Research: Need for more Inclusive Honors Section?

New DISC Research: Need for more Inclusive Honors Section?

January 28th 2015, Written by Nathan Robertson

Indigo’s primary goal is to improve secondary and post-secondary education through the integration of non-academic data with pre-existing curricula. In pursuit of this goal, Indigo is conducting ongoing research regarding the effects of Behavioral Styles on students’ academic experience.

By assessing students at two high schools, one a suburban charter school and the other an inner-city school in Denver, Indigo recently discovered that students’ individual behavioral styles may affect their likelihood to be placed in advanced or Honors classes.

The Indigo Assessment measures Behaviors according to the DISC system, a tool that divides behavior into four basic styles: Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness, and Compliance. Students’ DISC scores indicate their natural responses to everyday circumstances; for example, someone with a high D score (“Dominance”) tends to be direct, forceful, and bold, whereas a high S score (“Steadiness”) indicates a calm, patient temperament. Indigo has discovered no significant differences in DISC scores when it comes to students’ race or income. However, significant disparity appears between Honors students and their peers in standard course sections.

As the following chart displays, standard students are more likely to display Influencing behaviors (enthusiasm and optimism), whereas Honors students score a full standard deviation higher in Compliance, indicating a tendency to follow established procedures.

The fact that Honors students tend to be rule-followers will not necessarily startle educators; however, these results could indicate a need for strategic shifts in the structure of Honors sections. For instance, since high Influencers (a large portion of non-honors students) tend to be sociable and people-oriented, integrating discussion-based classes into Honors sections could create an environment inclusive of a broader range of behavioral styles.

Because behavioral styles do not correlate with intelligence levels, it is entirely possible that many intelligent students are kept out of Honors sections merely because their learning styles do not match up with current class structures. By making an effort to appeal to all behavioral types, educators could reach out to talented students often overlooked.

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