Tough-grading teachers elicit better student performance

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

What might improve your child's performance in school? A forthcoming study in the Spring 2004 issue of Education Next indicates "that students benefit academically from higher grading standards."

In an innovative study of elementary student test-score performance in Gainesville, Florida, economist David N. Figlio and researcher Maurice E. Lucas discover that

  • Students with tough-grading teachers tended to make substantially larger gains on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) than did students with less demanding teachers.

  • Teachers'grading standards were measured by comparing the letter grades they assigned their students with their students' performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). Grading by most teachers was fairly lax. Just 50 percent of "A students" and 11 percent of "B students" received scores of 4 or 5 on the FCAT (the level of test performance that is expected of A and B students.)

  • The benefits of rigorous grading standards are the largest for strong students in classrooms where most students are low performing. "By holding standards high, these higher-performing students appear to be given the challenge they need," observes Professor Figlio.

  • The benefits are also larger for low-performing students in classrooms where most students are high achievers. It appears that low-performing students are challenged to keep up with their peers when their teachers' standards are high.

  • Parents of students with relatively tough-grading teachers report spending more time helping their child with homework, as compared with the amount of time they spent helping a sibling with a less stringent teacher.

The study is based on information about grading practices and performance of elementary school teachers and students in Alachua County, Florida (including Gainesville). It was made possible by the fact that Alachua County administers both the FCAT and the ITBS, a nationally normed assessment of student achievement.

"The Gentleman's A" can be read in its entirety in the Spring 2004 issue of Education Next, and online at

David N. Figlio a professor of economics at the University of Florida and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Maurice E. Lucas is director of research and assessment for the school board of Alachua County, Florida.

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution, committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. The editors of Education Next are Paul E. Peterson, Professor of Government, Harvard University and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution; Chester E. Finn Jr., President, Fordham Foundation and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution; Marci Kanstoroom, education consultant; Frederick M. Hess, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute; and Martin West, Research Associate, Harvard University.

The Hoover Institution, founded at Stanford University in 1919 by Herbert Hoover, who went on to become the 31st president of the United States, is an interdisciplinary research center for advanced study on domestic public policy and international affairs, with an internationally renowned archive.

Working Press: Contact -
David Figlio
Knight-Ridder Professor of Economics
University of Florida, Gainesville
P: 352-392-0147
email: figlio [at]