How should student effort influence teachers’ grading?

iStock_000013777659XSmallMany teachers combine student achievement, attitude and effort in a single grade, report Lawrence H. Cross and Robert B. Frary, Virginia Polytechnic Institute. They surveyed 307 middle and high school teachers and 8,664 students about grading practices.

Their results validate previous studies’ findings that substantial majorities of teachers take effort and attitude into account when assigning grades. Students confirm and support their teachers’ grading practices. But the practice of combining subjective and objective, achievement and nonachievement measures into a single overall grade goes against recommended grading practices.

There is widespread agreement among measurement specialists that grades, at least in academic subjects at the secondary level, should be based exclusively on measures of current achievement and that improvement, ability, effort, conduct, attendance, and other nonachievement factors should not be considered.

Teachers’ beliefs contrary to their practice

In this study, 81% of teachers and 70% of students agreed that achievement, effort, and conduct should be reported separately. Nevertheless:

  • 72% of all teachers, 61% of college-preparatory teachers and 54% of mathematics teachers indicated that they raised the grades of low-ability students,
  • 55% of all students and 63% of college-bound students said it was fair for teachers to consider ability when assigning grades,
  • 20% of these teachers said they considered improvement to a substantial extent when grading,
  • 25% said they raised grades for high effort fairly often, but relatively few teachers lowered grades for lack of effort among high-ability students, and
  • 39% of these teachers took poor conduct and attitude into consideration when determining report card grades, and
  • 71%of students agreed with this practice.

Many of these teachers reported that they had considerable training in assessment. Researchers speculate that grading practices may reflect external pressures — that teachers maintain this practice despite contrary professional standards because this “hodgepodge” grading serves to protect not only the the students but also the teachers from negative professional or social consequences of poor performance. Teachers may also be influenced by the expectations of parents and students or their own personal beliefs about teaching.

Clear distinction needed

This study reveals that although teachers have considerable knowledge of recommended assessment practice, they do not apply this knowledge in the classroom. And students appear to understand and endorse their teachers’ grading practices. Cross and Frary believe they have an obligation to help secondary teachers appreciate the need to make a clear distinction between measured academic achievement and informal assessment of their pupils’ effort and attitude. If teachers were to apply recommended grading practices, more valid indicators of academic achievement would result.

However, there appears to be considerable resistance to doing so. Parents, administrators and the public have not called for reform; they seem to accept that grades are biased by the subjectivity teachers use in assessing and combining effort, ability, attitudes, conduct and growth with actual academic achievement.

To change current practice, measurement experts would need to communicate the value and importance of the best assessment practices to students, parents, administrators and the general public as well as teachers.

“Hodgepodge Grading: Endorsed by Students and Teachers Alike” Applied Measurement in Education Volume 12, Number 1, 1999 pp. 53-72.

Published in ERN April 1999 Volume 12 Number 4

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)