How grading affects student motivation

January 25, 2023

According to a study done by REL Northwest, test scores can morph into a reflection of students’ attitude, motivation and focus, which are influenced by the grades they feel they are defined by – a positive feedback loop. However, this presents challenges when the grades do not accurately represent a student or their work.

Osei said that grading is authentic feedback that has the potential to be either effective or ineffective at helping students succeed, especially considering the reality that grades are often determined by one perspective and do not include other aspects of the learning experience.

“Having a robust system to provide students feedback on their work is really important to school success,” Osei said. “I am being very intentional about the word ‘feedback,’ because certainly, that is what grades are. However, I don’t think all grades are necessarily effective feedback. There are going to be disparities because you have different people using their own understanding and making a determination around the value of somebody else’s work.”

According to Turman, the grades she receives affect her motivation toward schoolwork.

“When I get a good grade, I am excited about what I am learning, and when I get a bad grade, I am more  disappointed in myself,” Turman said. “However, it does encourage me, because if I get a bad grade, I am motivated to study more and try to get a better one.”

Earle said, although grades are effective and motivating for getting work done by a deadline, they make students only focus on the letter they receive — not their own learning needs.

“Grades make school less about learning and more about memorizing facts,” Earle said. “Knowing I will get graded on course material helps me learn it faster, but puts stress on learning it in a course-set time frame. If grades were not a thing, I would be able to focus more on classroom discussions. I would be able to take my time to learn new things.”

According to Wilsey, grading can be overwhelming and present students with stress but is an important part of school and a standard that motivates students to achieve excellence.

“If school was not graded, it would definitely take the pressure off,” Wilsey said. “But, there is still that certain feeling of satisfaction when you work hard on something, get a good grade on it, and know that your work was worth something. Whereas, if school did not include grading, people would think it is pointless.”

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