Grading Feedback and Mathematics Self-Efficacy

  • NSF Award #1340107
  • Registration Former Noyce Scholar

  • First Name Michael
  • Last Name King

  • Discipline Math
  • Institution Mills College
  • School Name and District Currently Teaching Oakland School for the Arts / Oakland Unified School District


Four sixth-grade math classes were divided into ‘intervention’ and ‘control’ groups in a quasi-experimental research design intended to assess the effect on self-efficacy of alternative, understanding-based performance feedback. Bandura’s (1977) pioneering theory ofself-efficacy acts as the theoretical framework for the study. Thetheory posits that individuals persevere and apply constructive coping mechanisms when they hold an expectation of success. Lacking that expectation of success, individuals may exhibit defensive behavior or dysfunctional coping. Sources of self-efficacy include perceptions of past success and verbal persuasion, both of which are related to feedback given to students in the classroom, especially through grading. The study examines whether providing understanding-based feedback on tests and assignments, rather than traditional letter grades, can provide benefits to self-efficacy and finds evidence that it does. Students receiving understanding-based feedback had significantly higher self-efficacy survey scores than those receiving traditional letter grades. In addition, students receiving the intervention were more likely to speak of their performance in terms of their level of content understanding rather than merely in terms of performance ranking (‘good’or ‘bad’ performance).

Posted on July 6, 2017