Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Grading/Effort

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Effort-Based Grading: The way to go?[edit | edit source]

By: Kerri May

Learning Target[edit | edit source]

Students will be able to:
• Understand the positives and the negatives for grading on effort.
• Understand the risks for grading on effort
• Decide for themselves what the best option is

I. Introduction[edit | edit source]

Envision this scenario: A young boy in elementary school struggles to keep up with his peers. He lags behind in reading, math, and writing. He tries his hardest, but he can never seem to close the gap. His teacher watches him struggle. She sees how hard he works and how much effort he puts into all of his assignments. She wishes that grading was more arbitrary and less competitive- you either pass or you fail. It breaks her heart to watch her students work so hard, only to be disappointed. And sure enough, when report cards come, she watches as his smile fades and apprehension sets in.

Not all children are equal. They learn in different ways. They think differently. Their skills and talents vary. So, then, should they all be graded on the same scale? What kind of scale? And what is fair? These are all questions that one must think about when considering the positives and the negatives of grading on effort.

II. The positives[edit | edit source]

Have you ever tried your best on an assignment, really gave it your all, only to get a lower grade? Have you ever studied tirelessly for a test, only to bomb it? Sure, we all have. It is inevitable. Children have varying degrees of intelligence and skills. Some are brilliant, others are just average. As teachers, it is our job to try our hardest to never classify students based on intelligence, or any other stereotypical characteristic. But we see it. We see the students that struggle to keep up, and the students who barely try and still succeed with flying colors. And it's not fair.

Therefore, some people believe that students should be graded on effort alone. Not on the quality of their work, but on the effort they put into it. Others believe that a certain percent of the grade should be effort-based. A prime example of an effort-based grading scale is the scale used at the predominantly African American Benedict College of South Carolina. According to the Office of Academic Affairs at Benedict College, the grading scale for freshmen is 60 percent effort, and 40 percent knowledge. Sophomores have a 60 percent knowledge and 40 percent effort (Swinton, D., 2004). The idea of the college's policy, called Success Equals Effort(SEE), is to "provide our students with a strong and immediate incentive to adopt the behaviors and habits that are most likely to bring academic success" (Swinton, D., 2004). They believe that in their unique setting, students are able to receive more feeback than they would in a traditional college setting, and therefore have more room to improve on their skills (Swinton, D., 2004).

Check out this link for a better understanding of the way that grades are calculated for freshmen and sophomore students at Benedict College:

In response to an increased amount of negative press, which is discussed below, Benedict College has been forced to defend what some consider questionable practices. With so much opposition to one college, whose grading scale is not based on effort alone, it is easy to see why many public schools might fear a change. Most would not even think of challenging the grading system that has been in practice for so many years. However, many others believe that an effort-based grading scale would be very beneficial for all students.

III. The Negatives[edit | edit source]

Fairness and equality for all sound nice, but is it a realistic goal? Many believe that it is not. Michael Covington, a professor at the University of Georgia, strongly believes in assigning a fair letter grading scale. He reasons that the main function of grades is to act as a system of communication between the teacher and the student and between different teachers and educational institutions (Covington, 2004). The teacher assigns the student a grade that he or she earned, based on his or her performance. Everything is clear-cut and straightforward. He believes that students should understand the grading scale, know what is expected of them, and work to achieve that goal to the best of their abilities.

His second principle is very simple: "Grades measure results, not effort" (Covington, 2004). While this may sound harsh, he maintains that in many instances, we do not know how hard our students work. Observing classwork is one thing, but knowing whether students worked hard outside of the classroom is impossible. Furthermore, he adds that "grading on effort can conceal incompetence or, at best, send students into advanced courses for which they are not prepared" (Covington, 2004). Not only that, but students are given degrees based on talent, not on hard work. He reminds us that we would not want a surgeon operating on us that tried his best in college and was graded "on effort" (Covington, 2004).

Covington's Grading Scale Explanation of letter grade
A The student did as well as could reasonably be expected.
B The student’s mastery of the material has noticeable flaws but is well above the minimum standard.
C The student met the minimum requirements for the course.
D The student learned some of the material but did not meet minimum requirements.
F The student learned little or none of the material.

Walter Williams, a well-known writer with a doctorate in economics from the University of California at Los Angeles, shares a similar view. He provides his opinion regarding the unique grading scale of Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., which grades freshmen and sophomore students on a scale in which effort is weighted greater than or equal to knowledge. He reminds us that "60 percent of a freshman's grade is based on effort and the rest on academic performance" (Williams, 2004). This means that a student could receive an A grade in effort, and an F in knowledge and still pass the class with a C. The reason for this is the SEE Policy, or "Success Equals Effort" policy, advocated by the college. In fact, the school takes this policy so seriously that teachers who fail to comply with it can be fired (Williams, 2004). This is precisely what Williams discusses in article. He believes that a student without the necessary talent that is graded on effort will "fall further and further behind because he hasn't grasped the material from the earlier courses. He'll graduate only if the fraudulent grading continues" (Williams, 2004)). Basically what Williams is trying to say is that students graded on effort, especially at a college level, is completely unrealistic. It does not prepare students for the real world, where knowledge reins supreme. He belives that students attending this college will be in for a rude awakening when they graduate from college and get a real job. Furthermore, Williams believes that degrees from Benedict College may become obsolete, as employers discover the means by which their employees earned their degrees (Williams, 2004).

IV. The Risks[edit | edit source]

Grades based on effort are nice, in theory. However, even with good intentions we have seen that it produces negative effects. Perhaps in the future, things will change. But for right now, there are too many risks involved. Here are some things that we must consider: What happens to the students who are not challenged? What if they lose interest in school, because it is just too easy? What if students who have special needs, or students who need further instruction are overlooked because they try their best? There are too many factors, in my mind at least, that prevent effort-based grading from being successful.

V. Review[edit | edit source]

1. Which is a description of effort-based grading?

A. Students are graded using traditional letter grades A-F.
B. Students are graded using traditional letter grades A-F, with pluses and minuses.
C. Students are graded based on how hard they work, sometimes in combination with their knowledge.
D. Students are graded on knowledge, using a number scale of 1-5.

2. Which is a benefit for effort-based grading?

A. Students that may not be as gifted but try their hardest may receive good grades.
B. Students that are extremely bright are able to use their skills to help other students.
C. Inclusion students will be given opportunities to broaden their knowledge.
D. Students that do not do their work can still receive good grades.

3. Mrs. Smith's elementary school wants to implement a effort-based grading program. She is afraid that her students will suffer from this change in policy. What statement most effectively argues against effort-based grading?

A. Gifted students may not feel challenged, and lose interest in school.
B. Average students will not be able to work to the best of their abilities.
C. Inclusion students will face a disadvantage.
D. Gifted students will become much more advanced than the rest of the class, creating animosity between students.

4. Jimmy works very hard in school. He does all of his homework, studies hard for tests, and listens attentively in school. His grades are excellent. However, Jimmy does not always grasp the material as quickly as the other students, and is usually struggling. He attends a school that employs an effort-based grading scale. Jimmy's deficiencies are not noticed by his teacher. What is the most likely reason?

A. Jimmy hides his confusion and still manages to do well by copying his classmates' work.
B. Jimmy tries his best and receives an A for effort, which is most important in their school.
C. Jimmy's teacher is too busy with paperwork to notice.
D. Jimmy's classmates are all on the same level that he is.

VI. Answers[edit | edit source]

1. C
2. A
3. A
4. B

VII. References[edit | edit source]

Covington, Michael A. (2004). What should grades mean? Retrieved October 24, 2008, from

Swinton, David Holmes. (2004). Office of Academic Affairs: Open Letter Regarding The Success Equals Effort (SEE) Policy. Retrieved from:

Swinton, Omari H. (2006). The Effect of Effort Grading on Learning. Power Point Presentation given at Pipeline Conference. Retrieved from

Williams, Walter. (2004). The academic halls of stupidity: Success Equals Effort. Capitalism Magazine. Retrieved October 25, 2008, from