Basing a Grade on Improvement Over Past Performance

What is basing a grade on improvement over past performance?

Like those involving student effort, grading adaptations based on improvement are designed to increase student motivation, or to "jump start" performance of students with a history of low or failing grades who may no longer be motivated to try hard and use supports effectively to improve their grades. The first step in designing and implementing an adaptation involving improvement is to identify a performance area (e.g., quizzes, tests, homework, class work, projects, etc..) on which the student has performed below expectations given the student's abilities, the difficulty of the tasks, and the level of available support. Teams must be certain that a student has the necessary ability and support to improve his or her performance before making an adaptation. Student's who perceive that they have been offered an incentive to improve, but cannot, may experience even more frustration and may question the teacher's intentions.

A common approach to grading improvement is to provide an incentive, such as "bonus points" for performance that meets or exceeds the established criteria. For example, a grading adaptation may involve earning an additional 5 bonus points each time the student meets or exceed the target of 70 points (70%) on a test. To encourage students to continually improve, the adaptation may involve recalculating the target score after each student performance (Slavin, 1980).

Table of benefits and cautions when basing a grade on improvement over past performance

The following table summarizes the potential benefits and cautions of grading adaptations involving improvement.

How adaptation works.

Potential benefits


Team identifies a type of assignment on which student has ability to improve. Criteria for improvement are explicitly stated and points, percentages, or grades are assigned when the student meets the criteria.

May motivate students with chronic low grades to increase effort and use supports more effectively. 

Student can be involved in "goal-setting" and criteria can be adjusted to promote continuous improvement.

Student must have ability to improve performance. 

Requires that assignment be repeated throughout the marking period.