Justin Stebbins
Justin Stebbins ’19, ’16, ’07

Current position: Instructional Coach, Scarborough Middle School, Scarborough Maine

Recent accomplishments: Justin presented his dissertation at the 2021 New England Educational  Research  Organization’s Annual Conference.

USM Degrees:

  • PhD in Public Policy with a concentration in Educational Leadership and Policy, University of Southern Maine, 2019
  • MSEd in Educational Leadership, University of Southern Maine, 2016
  • MSEd in Teaching and Learning, University of Southern Maine, 2007


Title: The Effects of Grading Practices on Motivations for Learning at the Middle School Level

Abstract: The objective of this quantitative survey study was to measure the effect grading traditionally (using averaging) versus non-traditionally (best, most recent evidence) on four types of student motivation.  These types of motivation were mastery orientation (learning for learning sake), performance orientation (going for the grade or external recognition), performance avoidance (not wanting to appear incompetent), and mastery avoidance (not wanting to lose what you have).  This set of orientations is derived from the goal orientation theory.

In this study, 1,652 students and 93 educators between four schools took an anonymous 20-minute online survey.  Due to lack of teacher participation, two schools were not used in the study.  The survey for the teachers measured grading practices, while the survey for the students measured motivation orientations.  There were other questions asked of both teachers and students, but only the aforementioned and demographic data were analyzed.

Findings from this study indicate that teachers in School 3 report using traditional averaging significantly more than School 1, who uses the best, most recent evidence more.  However, due to the similarities in their other grading practices, the two schools’ mastery orientation scores are not statistically different.  School 3 students are statistically more performance oriented, but by a margin that makes one question if classic negative socio-economics affects are being mitigated as they have double the free and reduced lunch rate. In terms of gender, cis-gendered students are equally motivated regardless of School.  However, non-binary students have the lowest scores in mastery and high scores in performance avoidance in School 1 as compared to School 3.  Is this because they want to hide, but cannot in this less performance-focused system?  The overall finding leads to more questions about specific populations such as non-binary and socio-economically disadvantaged students, but require further research between schools that participate in strictly traditional grading practices and schools such as these studied.  However, it seems rather clear that there is a positive incremental step toward refocusing on mastery orientation which has more cognitive benefits as compared to performance and lessens performance avoidance which has negative academic effects.