Effects of grades on student motivation and learning in compulsory school
Grades have several explicit functions such as to give information of student attainment, to function as an instrument of selection to the next level in the educational system, and to increase students’ motivation to learn. In many important respects, however, knowledge is limited of how well, and in what ways, these features are met. This would be one reason why the discussion of educational and grading systems seems often to be grounded in ideological conceptions and ideas, and only to a limited extent are based on results from research. For example, the effect of grades on student motivation, learning and achievement has been a controversial question since the beginning of the 1970s and research indicates diverging results (Harlen & Deakin, 2002).
Research has indicated thatexternal rewards have negative effects on student interest, motivation and learning and that students´ motivation to learn diminishes when they receive grades (Condry & Koslowski, 1977; Deci & Ryan, 1987). There are also results that indicate that students who have the ambition to receive high grades choose tasks that lie below their optimum level of learning and they also express less interest to learn and more anxiety related to schoolwork (Harter, 1981). However, there are also research that indicate that students´ level of knowledge are considerable higher in educational systems that use external examinations and this is true for all students no matter their level of performance and family background (Woessmann, 2002).
The results from two previous studies (Klapp Lekholm & Cliffordson, 2008; 2009) show that grades are multidimensional in that they measure both cognitive and non-cognitive aspects of student knowledge, skills and characteristics. The cognitive dimension is primarily measured by student achievement in different subject areas whereas the non-cognitive dimension is primarily measured by student characteristics such as motivation and interest. The results also showed that there are differences due to gender and family background on both the cognitive and non-cognitive dimensions of grades.
Against this background the main purpose of this study is to investigate the effect of grades on student motivation for learning and achievement.
Data comes from the Gothenburg Educational Longitudinal Database (GOLD), an integrated database containing register data for all individuals born 1972 to1992 and information such as questionnaire data for a national representative sample for several cohorts. The participants were 10 000 students born in 1967 where full information is available for subject grades, national test scores, background variables and questionnaire data.
This study has an experimental design since only half of the group of students received grades in year six. This makes it possible to investigate the effects of grades on student motivation and later achievement.
Multilevel confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and structural equation modeling (SEM) will be used. As measures of model fit, the χ² goodness-of-fit and RMSEA will be used. Mplus version 5.2 (Muthén & Muthén, 2008) will be used for the estimation and the STREAMS program (Gustafsson & Stahle, 2005) to execute the analyses.
The assumption that grades function in a way that motivate students to learn may be true for some students but not for others. It seems reasonable to believe that earlier/previous grades have effects on student motivation for learning in that a history of high grades have positive influences whereas a history of low grades have negative influences on student motivation and learning.
Since previous research has indicated that grades have different effects on low- and high achieving students the result from this study is expected to show systematic differences related to students level of performance and different effects on cognitive and non-cognitive abilities. The result may also show different patterns for different sub-groups of students such as age, gender and family background.
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