Brownback Publishes Classroom Grading Research in Economics of Education Review

Andy Brownback, an assistant professor in the Walton College Department of Economics, has had his paper “A Classroom Experiment on Effort Allocation Under Relative Grading” published in the February 2018 issue of Economics of Education Review.

Brownback joined the Walton College faculty in the fall of 2015. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in math from Kansas State University and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, San Diego.

In the published research, Brownback randomly assigned quizzes to be graded on the curve in a cohort of 10 or 100 students. Those groups represented “class sizes” for the students. “The larger cohorts elicit more effort in the form of greater time spent working on the quiz,” Brownback said. “Contrary to theoretical predictions, even low-ability students increase their effort in the larger cohorts.”

Brownback also has won a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant of nearly $200,000 for a study on ways to encourage people to make healthy food choices while not giving up choice.

The paper’s abstract reads:

Grading on the curve is a form of relative evaluation similar to an all-pay auction or rank-order tournament. When students are drawn from a population distribution into a class, their realized distribution of abilities is predictably linked to the size of the class. Increasing the class size draws students’ percentile ranks closer to their population percentiles. Since grades are awarded based on percentile ranks in the class, this reallocates incentives for effort between students with different abilities. The predicted aggregate effort and the predicted effort from high-ability students increases while the predicted effort from low-ability students decreases. Andreoni and Brownback (2017) find that the size of a contest has a causal impact on the aggregate effort from participants and the distribution of effort among heterogeneous agents. In this paper, I randomly assign “class sizes” to quizzes in an economics course to test these predictions in a real-stakes environment. My within-subjects design controls for student, classroom, and time confounds and finds that the lower variance of larger classes elicits greater effort from all but the lowest-ability students, significantly increasing aggregate effort.