Basing part of Grade on Student's Effort

What is basing part of grade on student's effort?

Considering effort when assessing a student's performance remains a controversial practice, especially among general educators. Researchers in general education grading systems recommend that effort be reported separately from the letter grade, or that multiple grades be given (Marzano, 2000). However, research on grading adaptations for students with disabilities (Munk & Bursuck, 2001, 2004) indicates that teams do perceive effort as an appropriate area for grading, and grading adaptations involving effort may be perceived more positively when used systematically, and not merely as a "safety net" when a student performs poorly on an assignment. Much of the debate regarding student effort and grading stems from the perception that effort is difficult to define and measure, and is not always correlated with the overall quality of a student's performance. In addition, feedback indicating "good effort" can be misinterpreted by students and parents also indicate mastery of the general curriculum.

Despite the above caveats and criticisms, consideration of effort when grading remains a widespread practice and has therefore been included in research on grading adaptations (Munk, 2003). Teams considering a grading adaptation involving effort must operationally define effort as observable behaviors that can be measured. Common examples include asking questions in class, writing answers to math problems, and turning in homework assignments, all of which can be verified and recorded. Teams should select student behaviors that, if increased or improved, will likely lead to improved general performance. For example, asking questions can lead to increased understanding, while completing homework assignments can lead to increased content knowledge and improved performance on quizzes or tests.

What are the advantages of basing part of a grade on student effort?

The rationale for a grading adaptation involving effort is usually to motivate the student to try harder by acknowledging increased effort in the grading systems. Rather than simply encouraging the student to "try harder" because the extra effort will lead to improved performance and higher grades, teachers might assign points, percentages, or grades to the student's effort and then average these values with other grades for assignments or when calculating the report card grade. Teachers may assign "bonus points" when a student's effort meets the established criteria.

Rather than motivate a student to increase his or her effort, a teacher may want to acknowledge a student's satisfactory effort when grading. The rationale for this adaptation is often based on the perception that the student's performance on the classroom assignments will always result in a low grade because of the impact of disability, and therefore it is fair to improve the student's chances for higher grade by incorporating effort into the grading system. Although there is no research on the impact of this type of grading adaptation, it is not designed to change the student's behavior, or to improve performance on the general curriculum. For these reasons, this type of grading adaptation may not be suitable for students with mild disabilities; particularly those included in general education classes.

Table of benefits and cautions of using this adaptation.

The following table summarizes the potential benefits and cautions of a grading adaptation involving effort:

How adaptation works.

Potential benefits


Team identifies specific student behaviors (e.g., asking questions) to represent "effort." The student is encouraged to either continue to exhibit the behaviors or, in a more likely scenario, to increase the behavior. The team establishes criteria for when the behavior should be exhibited and how it will be measured and accounted during grading.

Increased focus on behaviors that might improve overall performance.

Motivation for students with chronic low grades to keep working hard.

Behaviors chosen to represent effort may not produce increase in overall performance. 

Proportion of grade attributed to effort must be chosen prudently to avoid inflated grade that does not reflect mastery of content.