EdTech articles

Why withholding marks can help your students thrive

While the techniques that underpin ‘best-practice teaching’ are largely debatable, few would discredit the role that timely, targeted feedback plays in student learning. After all, even the highest-quality assessments lose impact over time if students are unable to reflect and respond to their performance in those tasks.

But while ‘feedback’ is widely accepted as a catalyst for student development, the distinctions between its core elements – comments and grades – remain largely unheralded, with many oblivious to the value that’s gained when wielding these tools independently.

Backtracking to 1988, the power of staged feedback was first unveiled by educational psychology professor, Ruth Butler, while conducting research into the impact of feedback on students across a sample of twelve 6th-grade classrooms. Much to her surprise, Butler found that giving grades and comments together didn’t provide the most value to learners.

It became evident that students were intrinsically drawn to their grade, focusing solely on the number/letter while bypassing the more meaningful comments that supported it. If the grade was good, the students felt they didn’t need to read the comment. If the grade was poor, the students didn’t want to read the comment. Regardless, the result of releasing marks/grades and comments together significantly diluted the impact of the teacher’s feedback.

Conversely, Butler found that students who received only comments, made an additional 30-percent gain in their learning while the groups that received only grades, and grades and comments, made no additional gain. Research from Black and Wiliam (1998) supports Butler’s findings, the duo concluding that “the giving of marks, or grades, has a negative effect in that pupils ignore comments when marks are also given.”

Given SEQTA’s voracious appetite for improving student learning, the ability to release student marks independent to associated feedback has been brought into the product as part of this year’s 2019.6 release. Through the new Teacher Feedback Released function under the Overview of Assessments/Availability and Dates pane, teachers can independently release feedback, rubrics or any file they upload, enabling students to focus on the message and not the oft-distracting grade that’s associated with it.

Shire Christian School in New South Wales has been among the first to try out SEQTA’s staged feedback tool, with Deputy Principal, David Stonestreet, providing great feedback on his first experience of the function.

“Some of our staff have been so keen on releasing feedback without marks that they have been hounding me about when the update was coming,” he said.

“I released my first ‘feedback-only’ results today to Year 7 and asked the students to write a reflection based only on my feedback without seeing their grades. They found it hard as they are so used to using a number or a grade as a measure of success – it is good that we are able to work to change that.”

“Some of them even filled in the pre-reflection (student expectations), as it was turned on…even though I never actually asked them to.”

Staged feedback is just one of many enhancements packaged into the 2019.6 release. For more information, including your school’s rollout dates, speak to your School Relationship Manager.

Not using SEQTA yet? No stress! Talk to our Solutions team to find out how we can help get you going!

Kim Edwards bio picture

Kim Edwards, Senior Education Consultant

Kim Edwards provides professional development for teachers and school leaders. Prior to joining SEQTA, Kim was Deputy Principal and MYP Co-ordinator for 11 years.

Join over 38,000 teachers using SEQTA