Faculty Mentor

Dr. Charles Henderson


Science Education

Presentation Date


Document Type



Grading practices can send a powerful message to students about what is expected. Research in physics education has identified a misalignment between what college instructors value and their actual scoring of quantitative student solutions. This work identified three values that guide grading decisions: (1) a desire to see students’ reasoning, (2) a readiness to deduct points from solutions with obvious errors and a reluctance to deduct points from solutions that might be correct, and (3) a tendency to assume correct reasoning when solutions are ambiguous. When values are in conflict, the conflict is resolved by placing the burden of proof on either the instructor or the student. In this qualitative interview study, we verified that this misalignment exists and that the same three values are present among earth science (n=7) and chemistry (n=10) instructors. Furthermore, we identified a fourth value regarding the desire to see the correct use of units. Overall, we found that 43% of earth science and 60% of chemistry faculty placed the burden of proof on the student; we speculate that the nature of chemical problem-solving may account for this difference. Although all of the faculty in this study and the physics study stated that they valued seeing student reasoning, only 49% overall graded work in such a way that would actually encourage students to show their reasoning, and 34% of instructors could be viewed as penalizing students for showing their work. This research may contribute toward a better alignment between values and practice in faculty development.


2nd Faculty Advisor: Dr. Heather Petcovic; 3rd Faculty Advisor: Dr. Herb Fynewever

One of the winners of 2012 Research and Creative Activities Poster Day.