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The complete question

Our reports cards require that we give students a grade for achievement and effort in each subject area. I like this configuration because some of my kids work hard, and I can reward them through their effort grade. But some of my colleagues are arguing for a change in the system; they only want to report an achievement grade. Given your research into kids and schools, which configuration would you support?

Expert answer

I would retain the effort grade, for two reasons. First, it’s useful feedback for the child and for parents. There is good evidence that determination, and perseverance are hugely important to many school outcomes that most people care about. And as described in the book, there is also evidence that students’ beliefs about effort are important. When students believe that effort leads to achievement, they are more likely to work hard, and not to get discouraged by failure, because they believe that, with more effort, they might succeed. If, in contrast, they believe effort doesn’t matter much and what really counts is ability, then failure is very discouraging because it indicates that they lack ability, and there is nothing that they can do about it.

A second reason to retain the effort grade is that it can provide useful feedback for teachers. If the two grades for a given child are very dissimilar, that seems important to me. The child who is getting high grades in achievement and low grades in effort would seem to need more challenging work. The child showing the opposite pattern needs less challenging work.

I’d like to know why your colleagues want the effort grade eliminated. My hunch is that they don’t want kids to get the message that achievement doesn’t matter much and all that matters is trying hard. I’m sympathetic to that. Perhaps there is a way that effort can be acknowledged and praised, without diminishing the importance of reaching goals. The relative importance of grades should be explicit and can also be signaled visually on a report card by the size and positioning of the grades.

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