Learning Ability, Improvement, and Effort Assessment

Learning Ability, Improvement, and Effort Assessment




Question: The authors of your textbook discuss why learning ability, improvement, and effort should not be used to base grading. Describe why each of these should not be used. Confine your answer to one page.

No Plagiarism


Waugh, C. K & Gronlund, N. E. (2013). Assessment of student achievement (10th ed).

Boston: Pearson.

Here is some info that can help answer the question:

Learning Ability, Improvement, and Effort

In some cases, attempts are made to base grades on achievement in relation to learning ability, the amount of improvement in achievement, or the amount of effort a student puts forth. All of these procedures have problems that distort the meaning of grades.

Grading on the basis of learning ability has sometimes been used at the elementary level to motivate students with less ability. At first glance, it seems sensible to give a grade of A to students who are achieving all that they

Absolute Grading and Relative Grading

Absolute Grading


  1. Grades can be described directly in terms of student performance, without reference to the performance of others.
  2. All students can obtain high grades if mastery outcomes are stressed and instruction is effective.


  1. Performance standards are set in an arbitrary manner and are difficult to specify and justify.
  2. Performance standards tend to vary unintentionally due to variations in test difficulty, assignments, student ability, and instructional effectiveness.
  3. Grades can be assigned without clear reference to what has been achieved (but, of course, they should not be).

Relative Grading


  1. Grades can be easily described and interpreted in terms of rank in a group.
  2. Grades distinguish among levels of student performance that are useful in making prediction and selection decisions.


  1. The percent of students receiving each grade is arbitrarily set.
  2. The meaning of a grade varies with the ability of the student group.
  3. Grades can be assigned without clear reference to what has been achieved (but, of course, they should not be).

are capable of achieving. There are two major problems with this procedure, however. First, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a dependable measure of learning ability apart from achievement. Both tests have similar type items and measure similar concepts. Second, the meaning of the grades becomes distorted. A low-ability student with average performance might receive an A, whereas a high-ability student with average performance receives a grade of C. Obviously, the grades are no longer very meaningful as indicators of achievement.

Using the amount of improvement as a basis for grading also has its problems. For one, the difference scores between measures of achievement over short spans of time are very unreliable. For another, students who score high on the entry test cannot possibly get a high grade because little improvement can be shown. Students who know about this grading procedure ahead of time can, of course, do poorly on the first test and be assured of a fairly good grade. This is not an uncommon practice where grades are based on improvement. Finally, the grades lack meaning as indicators of achievement when increase in achievement becomes more important than level of achievement. For example, a low-achieving student with considerable improvement might receive an A, while a high-achieving student with little improvement receives a B or C.

Grading on the basis of effort, or adjusting grades for effort, also distorts the meaning of the results. Low-achieving students who put forth great effort receive higher grades than their achievement warrants and high-achieving students who put forth little effort are likely to receive lower grades than deserved. Although such grading seems to serve a motivational function for low-achieving students, the grades become meaningless as measures of the extent to which students are achieving the intended learning outcomes.

In summary, assigning grades that take into account learning ability, amount of improvement, or effort simply contaminates the grades and distorts their meaning as indicators of student achievement. A letter grade is most useful when it represents achievement and only achievement. Other factors may be rated separately on a report card, but they should not be allowed to distort the meaning of the letter grade