Determinants and Impact of Academic Grades: What Grading Strategies Work Best, for Whom, and Why

How do grades and teachers’ grading practices affect student motivation and achievement?

Teachers’ strategies for evaluating tests, assignments, and cumulative performance vary on a number of dimensions (e.g., grading on a curve, different types of feedback, letter grades, numeric averages). Thus, it is unclear to what extent grades are a good reflection of student achievement and if there are approaches to grading that are particularly effective in promoting achievement. This investigator plans to synthesize relevant studies to examine grading strategies and their impacts. In phase I, Cooper will determine whether there is sufficient research to conduct a synthesis on the impacts of grading strategies. While there is a diverse body of more than 3,000 relevant documents, it is unclear how many studies evaluate specific grading strategies and meet the inclusion criteria for methodological rigor. Cooper will conduct electronic literature searches and review references lists in relevant articles and books to assess the extent of the research base. The research base includes studies with experimental and quasi-experimental data. The studies must also document the characteristics of grading strategies and impacts of grading for a cohort of youth from kindergarten through college. Based on these searches, Cooper and colleagues will finalize their conceptual model and refine their coding frame. If he finds a sufficient number of high-quality, relevant studies, Cooper will proceed to phase II, examining relationships between grades and grading strategies on student motivation and performance and how characteristics of the school and student affect those relationships. The second phase involves coding studies for quality, content, and effect size estimates. Both quantitative and qualitative studies will be considered during the analysis and interpretation stages to better understand the experiences of students related to grading practices. Relevant qualitative studies with rigorous methods will also be included.