The emotional impact of grades on students

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


First, we must expand the criteria by which we evaluate the quality of our assessments at all levels and in all contexts. Traditionally, we have judged quality in terms of the attributes of the resulting scores; these scores must lead to valid and reliable inferences about student achievement. As a result, schools have lavished attention on characteristics of the instruments that produce such scores. In the future, however, we must recognize that assessment is about far more than the test score’s dependability—it also must be about the score’s effect on the
learner. Even the most valid and reliable assessment cannot be regarded as high quality if it causes a student to give up.

We must begin to evaluate our assessments in terms of both the quality of the evidence they yield and the effect they have on future learning. High-quality assessments encourage further learning; low-quality assessments hinder learning. Understanding the emotional dynamics of the assessment experience from the student’s perspective is crucial to the effective use of assessments to improve schools.

Second, we must abandon the limiting belief that adults represent the most important assessment consumers or data-based decision makers in schools. Students’ thoughts and actions regarding assessment results are at least as important as those of adults. The students’ emotional reaction to results will determine what they do in response. Whether their score is
high or low, students respond productively when they say, “I understand. I know what to do next. I can handle this. I choose to keep trying.” From here on, the result will be more learning The counterproductive response is, “I don’t know what this means. I have no idea what to do next. I’m probably too dumb to learn this anyway. I give up.” Here, the learning stops.

In standards-driven schools, only one of these responses works, especially for students who have yet to meet standards. Assessment for learning is about eliciting that productive response to assessment results from students every time. It can produce winning streaks for all students.