Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Terri A. Fredrick


This thesis argues for the implementation of contextually-appropriate policies and practices that not only clarify the meaning of grades for teachers, parents, and students, but also give students more autonomy and improve their intrinsic motivation to learn. The literature about motivation reveals that the conventional wisdom—the use of contingent rewards—works when students are asked to complete simple, algorithmic tasks such as turning in assignments on time, but not when they're asked to complete complex, heuristic tasks such as those articulated by the Common Core State Standards. The literature about grading and grading systems reveals similarly misleading conventional wisdom: Educators often assume there is a shared understanding of what grades mean, but there is not. Varied purposes lead teachers to implement varied policies and practices that have a significant impact on how students perceive learning and how they complete their assignments. The final chapter of this thesis offers contextually-appropriate recommendations for one rural, public high school making the transition to the standards-based grading system. Though there is no research arguing that this system is better than another, an examination of the school's context suggests this system—and the recommended purpose, policies, and practices that align with it—will clearly communicate the meaning of grades, improve students' autonomy, and increase their intrinsic motivation to learn.