consider in light of current research in attribution theory (Skaalvik, 1990; Vispoel & Austin, 1995). Research shows that feedback that emphasizes learning goals leads to greater learning gains than feedback that emphasizes self-esteem (Ames, 1992; Butler, 1988; Dweck, 1986). With respect to feedback emphasizing self-esteem, high-performing students often attribute their performance to effort and low-performing students attribute their performance to lack of ability (Butler & Newman, 1995; Cameron & Pierce, 1994; Kluger & deNisi, 1996). Students who repeatedly receive a grade of C– often believe that a C– is all that they are capable of achieving. Comments can take the focus from such attribution of success, or lack thereof, to the quality of the work at hand and areas where it can be strengthened. While grades can sometimes contribute to a competitive classroom environment where performance is normative (judged in relation to that of peers), comments that attend to specified criteria for higher quality work can help provide students with the feedback they need to develop their understanding and make progress.
Although letter grades are the most prevalent form of feedback, Stiggins (2001) reminds educators that grades serve as a way to convey a lot of information as a symbol for ease in communication. The symbol, or letter, can be only as meaningful as the definitions of achievement that underpin them and the quality of the assessment that produced them.
To use ongoing assessment to best facilitate student growth, the teacher plays a key role in choosing and organizing student tasks in ways that encourage them to speak and write so as to elicit their levels of understanding. Although almost any sample of student work can provide an occasion for a rich assessment discussion and can provide the teacher with assessment information, teachers also plan for opportunities for students to discuss and display their levels of understanding. They also create situations and allocate time for students to examine and discuss guidelines for high-quality work. These tasks are demanding ones and are discussed further in Chapter 3 and Chapter 5.
The Standards promote greater emphasis on teachers “continuously assessing student understanding,” on “assessing rich, well-structured knowledge,” on “assessing scientific understanding and reasoning,” on “students engaged in ongoing assessment of their work and that of others,” and on “teachers [becoming] involved in the development of external assessments” (p. 100).
The point of this last emphasis is significant: The Standards seek to