Sadler and Good, “The Impact of Self and Peer Grading on Student Learning”

“The Impact of Self and Peer Grading on Student Learning,” published in Educational Assessment, is available online here.

Self and peer grading can be a really powerful tool for student engagement. Before continuing, lets address a common misconception about this practice and privacy considerations.  The US Supreme Court unanimously held in Owasso Independent School District No. I-011 v. Falvo, (2002) that peer grading does not violate FERPA.  Justice Stephen Breyer expressed his concern that applying FERPA to peer grading would stifle classroom practices.  In the opinion for the course, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that grades given by students to one another do not constitute educational records that must be kept private.

While this article is focused on face-to-face classes, the approach is easily applicable to the online classroom as well.  The practice helps with “teaching presence” in the online classroom.  Not all “teaching presence” has to involve the teacher directly.  Teaching presence in the online classroom can happen when learners are engaging with each other, with the course content, or with the teacher.  This practice provides a means by which some content (or maybe additional content) can be dealt without increasing the workload of the teacher.  There are other benefits to this practice also.

The authors list these advantages to using self and peer assessment (the citations have been removed from this list):

  • Logistical: Because an entire classroom of students can be grading simultaneously, tests can be marked in a short amount of time. This saves teacher time. Grading can take place immediately following a quiz or during the next meeting of the class. This results in quicker feedback for students. Peers can often spend more time and offer more detailed feedback than the teacher can provide.
  • Pedagogical: Judging the correctness of answers is an additional opportunity for students to deepen their understanding about a topic. Reading another’s answers or simply spending time pondering another’s view may be enough for students to change their ideas or further develop their skills.
  • Metacognitive: Embedding grading as a part of a student’s learning experience can have benefits that go beyond learning specific subject-matter content. Grading can help to demystify testing. Students become more aware of their own strengths, progress, and gaps. Pupils develop a capacity to take initiative in evaluating their own work and use higher order thinking skills to make judgments about others’ work. Self-evaluation and peer review are an important part of future, adult, professional practice, and test grading is a good way to develop these skills. With increasing awareness of the workings of tests, students can also formulate test items that can be used on later exams.
  • Affective: Affective changes can make classrooms more productive, friendlier, and cooperative, and thus can build a greater sense of shared ownership for the learning process. The reason for tests is illuminated when students compare and judge the veracity of answers. Students develop a positive attitude toward tests as useful feedback rather than for “low grades as punishment for behavior unrelated to the attainment of instructional objectives.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his opinion in Falvo, provided this list:

  • Logistical—A teacher employing student-grading can spend more time
    “teaching and in preparation.”
  • Pedagogical—“It is a way to teach material again in a new context … . By explaining the answer to the class as students correct their papers, the teacher
    not only reinforces the lesson but also discovers whether the students have
    understood the material and are ready to move on.”
  • Metacognitive—“Correcting a classmate’s work can be as much as a part of
    the assignment as taking the test itself.”
  • Affective—“It helps show students how to assist and respect fellow pupils.”
    (pp. 7–8).

Sadler and Good point out that there are “legitimate” reasons to question the value of student grading.  They believe it should not be seen as an isolated practice, but as part of as a “system of learning and assessment” utilized by teachers.  “When used responsibly student-grading can be highly accurate and reliable, saving teachers’ time. In this study, self-grading appears to further student understanding of the subject matter being taught.”


Rick W. Burkett runs the John A. Logan College Teaching and Learning Center, teaches history, and heads an educational nonprofit. He publishes blogs on a wide variety of topics, including history, teaching and learning, student success, and teaching online.

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