Student grades and academic achievement go hand in hand in many ways. Grades are as an evaluation tool to gage students’ comprehension of the subject matter, to assess their reading and writing skill and to determine their overall intelligence or ability level. Grades can also be used to determine other things about students. If a consistent “A” student starts failing tests or assignments, that may be an indication to teachers that the student may be experiencing a personal issue, such as trouble at home, drug use or health concern. In these ways, grades help teachers to establish and track students’ learning progress, intellectual growth and general well-being, which in turn enables teachers to provide appropriate opportunities for learning to foster academic achievement among students.
By establishing a student’s grade point average, a teacher can learn how to fine tune instruction on both an individual and whole-group level. If a teacher sees, for example, that a student with a good or average grade point average starts receiving less-than-average grades, the teacher will be able to infer the student’s difficulty with that particular topic, chapter or concept and can provide extra help to improve student achievement. Or if a teacher gives a test and the entire class scores 20 percent lower than normal, the grades will indicate to the teacher that perhaps her instructional approach was ineffective and she will know to revise the lesson in order to reach students and foster achievement.
Grade patterns can also help teachers recognize and provide opportunities for bright students who aren’t being challenged or identify and differentiate instruction visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners. If, for example, a student consistently scores low on oral tests, the grades might indicate that the student is a visual or kinesthetic learner and the teacher can then provide suitable assignments to those learning styles, such as written exams or hands-on art projects. In these ways, grades are essential to academic achievement in that they can illuminate students’ learning needs, point toward ineffective instruction and help the teacher establish her student’s individual learning styles.
Grades can also influence students’ academic achievement and performance on future assignments, tests and projects. Since grading consists of a scaled, weighted ranking system that ultimately determines a student’s ability to move forward or repeat a grade, grades can be used as a motivating factor both in and out of the classroom. A student with consistently average or even poor grades can be motivated to improve their scores when a teacher assigns special rewards to high marks. A student, for example, may be encouraged to put additional effort into his work if he knows that all students who receive a grade of A will be given a homework pass to use on the day of their choosing. On the other hand, students may study more vigorously for a test if they know that anyone who receives a D grade or lower will be required to participate in a one-week extra-help workshop during free period. Attaching lower-stakes, but relevant, consequences such as these to students’ grades can improve academic achievement over time, especially among disinterested students who are particularly difficult to engage or motivate in the classroom.
Important to note are the few negative or detrimental ways in which grades can impact academic achievement among students. If a grading system is not used properly, it can be ineffective or even harmful to students’ academic progress. To begin with, if a teacher does not chart the grades or is unable to establish and recognize the grade patterns of her students, the grades will not be effective in alerting the teacher of her students’ needs, as previously discussed. The grades alone are not enough to improve student achievement -- rather, their successful interpretation by an educational professional is essential to their use as a method to improve student achievement. In addition, graded assignments must be diverse in order to give all learners the opportunity for achievement. If students’ are only graded in one way, this can limit, hinder or even skew students’ performance results. If students are only graded on tests and quizzes, for example, students who are hands-on, discovery learners will not have the opportunity to achieve because they are not being given an opportunity to demonstrate learning in a way that is suitable to their learning style or needs. By basing grades on a variety of assignments that include group work, presentations, written work and creative projects, the teacher will be able to provide all students with opportunities for academic achievement.