Equity In Grading: Teachers' Grading Practices And Beliefs Towards Student-Teacher Responsibility In The Classroom

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Patricia Reeves, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

June Gothberg, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Amanda Thorpe, Ed.D.

Fourth Advisor

Jianping Shen, Ph.D.


Education, equity, grading, high school, K-12


What factors do teachers consider when they determine their students’ final grades? Performance on assessments, effort, improvement, extra credit, homework, and participation, have all historically been shown to be the major categories used to guide teachers’ grading practices (McMillian & Lawson, 2001). Yet, educational researcher and grading reform advocate Susan Brookhart (2008) describes these factors as a hodgepodge or a kitchen sink of items. Quizzes and tests are fairly straightforward, as the ability to measure learning outcomes from these tasks are more objective. The student either gets the correct answer or not, with the assumption that the correct answer means the content was learned. However, other grading categories become more subjective when educators attempt to assess them, and this is where individual assumptions, opinions, and beliefs factor into the grading process. How can grades be precise when we include categories such as behavior, participation, or punctuality? What is the right way for a student to behave? How much participation in class is enough participation?

These scenarios are perfect examples of subjective items left up to each individual teacher to assess according to their own subjective interpretation. The concern is that subjectivity involved in any sort of evaluation, leaves an open door for the possibility of one’s own bias to factor into the assessment process. The purpose of this instrumental case study was to uncover teachers’ assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes as it relates to grading, teacher/student responsibilities within the classroom, and individual academic classroom policies, seeking to identify where, how, and why ineffective and inequitable grading practices are being sustained in the classrooms of such teachers. Ultimately, this study attempted to identify any possible themes between teachers’ preconceived notions and their final selection of their academic classroom policies.

The study was conducted at a single high school (9-12) in a Midwestern state using 15 teacher interviews, two teacher focus group sessions, as well as the analysis of multiple classroom documents (i.e. classroom syllabi, graded student work, etc.). Study findings suggest that while the teachers’ job is challenging, implicit bias is inherent within the system. Whether it was frustration with their students, exhaustion due to excessive amounts of grading, or perceived pressure from external forces, teacher participants expressed dismay regarding the current state of 21st century public education. Through the investigative process, four overarching themes emerged: (1) Teachers believe students need to care and communicate constructively about grades, but they did not present strategies on how to achieve that; (2) Lack of professional training exacerbates teacher variation, pressures, and challenges regarding training; (3) Teachers want learning to be a shared responsibility, but they did not present strategies on how to achieve that; and (4) Teachers convey a low sense of empowerment and efficacy regarding grading.

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