Knowing previous students' grades affects undergraduates' GPA, Stanford scholars find

May 10, 2018

By Alex Shashkevich

When undergraduates know how previous students performed in courses at their university, they end up receiving slightly lower class grades on average than they would have if they did not check out that information, according to Stanford research.

In a new research paper, an interdisciplinary group of Stanford scholars examined the effects of a course-planning web application which visualizes data from registrar records and prior student evaluations for each class. Through a randomized field experiment, the scholars found that the use of this platform led on average to a drop of 0.16 units in overall GPA. As an example, that decrease is large enough to move a B+ grade roughly half the distance to a B, the researchers said.

“The information students rely on to make academic decisions can have a demonstrable effect on their behavior,” said Mitchell Stevens, an associate professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and a co-author of the paper. “The design of academic environments, both digital and physical, really matters for student outcomes in college.”