What is beyond the power of alternative assessments?
You may have heard of Butler's famous (1988) study investigating the effects of comments vs grades vs grades plus comments. What you probably know about this study is that it found that students receiving only comments performed better and retained higher interest in the task than students receiving only grades and students receiving grades and comments.
What you may not have heard about this study is...
(1) It was with fifth and sixth graders.
(2) They were knowingly participating in a psychological study--this was not part of normal coursework--and hence the "grades" they received were known by them to be inconsequential.
(3) The tasks were word puzzles that had been found, in a pilot study, to be of intrinsic interest to the students. It is possible that students resent being assigned grades--especially grades that explicitly compare them to their peers (see below)--on what appear to them to be fun word puzzles, as opposed to serious coursework.
(4) The study consisted of three sessions of word puzzles and feedback.
(5) There was no opportunity for students to put in work--study, practice, etc.--that would improve their performance on the task (the puzzles). It is possible that students resent receiving grades on work that they are not allowed to prepare for.
(6) The "grades" were created by normalizing scores on a scale form 49 to 99. (Hence, e.g., a student who outperformed exactly 50% of their peers would receive a 74.)
(7) The article in which this study was reported does not indicate how the "grades" the students received compared to the grades they were used to receiving on their normal coursework. If they tended to be lower, that would explain why students who received them became discouraged relative to their peers who did not.
(8) Contrary to some reports, this study did not test whether grades are an effective motivator. First, the study involved "grades" that were from the students' perspective inconsequential. Second, even if the students did care about these "grades", there was no opportunity for them to be motivated by them to take steps to improve their performance (e.g., there was no opportunity for students to study, practice, etc.).
How about rewriting this "“I want you to succeed, and this class is designed to help you succeed. I believe that everyone in this class can earn an A. You will always know what you need to do to earn any grade you want. It may not be easy, but there won’t be surprises. My goal is to help you make it happen.” to "“I want you to succeed, and this class is designed to help you succeed. I believe that everyone in this class can learn very well. You will always know what you need to do to learn to a high level. It may not be easy, but there won’t be surprises. My goal is to help you make it happen. And if it does, the grades will look after themselves. everyone who learns well will get an A.” Emphasize learning, not the grade.