Student Perceptions of Grades
Students’ perceptions of grades are important for two general reasons (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Crooks, 1988; Ross, Rolheiser, & Hogaboam-Gray, 2002). First, grades and other aspects of classroom assessment influence student motivation to learn. Second, grades and other aspects of classroom assessment provide students with information that they use in their learning. These two purposes are related, since the availability of various kinds of information influences students’ decisions about how and why to use the information.
Psychologists have recognized that student perceptions are important for a very long time. For example, in the mid-20th century behaviorists conceived of motivation as a drive or emotion. In order to predict behavior from behaviorist theories, one needed to know the strength of the motivational drive, the person’s perception of how likely their behavior was to be successful, and the incentive value for them of the reward they would receive. The importance of these kinds of perceptions has endured, even though educational psychology is no longer dominated by behaviorist theories.
Today, cognitive psychologists are interested in motivation (student wishes and intentions) and volition (student actions) as bases for effort in school. What students want and the decisions they make are clearly student perceptions. Some of the same perceptions that once were interpreted in behaviorist terms remain important, reinterpreted according to the theories of cognitive psychology. Since cognitive psychology emphasizes students’ thought processes, additional student perceptions have been identified as important; for example, students’ perceptions of the reasons for their successes or failures. Student perceptions important to the educational psychology of grading include:
- Perceptions of what the task or assignment they are asked to do actually means
- Students’ perceptions of what constitutes quality work
- Level of interest in the particular topic or material
- Perceptions of the difficulty or level of challenge of a particular task or assignment
- Beliefs about whether they can be successful on a task or assignment, called self-efficacy (Pajares, 1996)
- Perceptions of the importance of a particular task or assignment for its own sake, sometimes called its intrinsic value
- Perceptions of the instrumental importance of a particular task or assignment to something else that is worthwhile (whether it will help with learning in the future, for example), sometimes called utility value (Eccles, 1983)
- Beliefs about the reasons for success or failure, sometimes called attributions
- Reasons students give for wanting to learn, called goal orientations (Ames & Archer, 1988; Elliott & Thrash, 2001)
- Perceptions of the feedback received after doing a task or assignment, especially whether it is informational or controlling (Deci & Ryan, 1985)
- Their own perceptions of the quality of their work, called self-monitoring (Sadler, 1989)
- Perceptions of the distance between their performance as described in the grade or feedback and their conception of quality work
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