Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Learning

First Committee Member

Jane McCarthy

Second Committee Member

Jane McCarthy

Third Committee Member

Susan Brookhart

Fourth Committee Member

Christine Clark

Fifth Committee Member

Lisa Bendixen

Sixth Committee Member

Linda Quinn

Number of Pages



This study describes the phenomenon of how first-year teachers learn to evaluate students learning by (letter) grades. Grades seem simple enough; but in reality, each grade carries serious consequences with it – for either good or bad. For example, grades affect benefits/consequences at home; they affect placement in remedial or advanced courses; they affect grade level promotion; they affect participation in programs, i.e. extracurricular activities like sports; they affect high school graduation, college acceptance, and scholarship eligibility (Brookhart, 1991; Marzano, 2000).

Despite the extreme importance of grades and how they can influence a person’s life over a period of time depending on the grades they receive, it is interesting to note that the teachers assigning these crucial grades have had no formal or explicit instruction on how to give the grades. Researchers in assessment literacy have called for greater instruction in this area, but the current landscape has revealed no significant change in grading practice instruction (DeLuca & Bellara, 2013; DeLuca, Chavez, Bellara, & Chunhua, 2013; Brookhart, 2013).

The study reveals the phenomenon of how first-year teachers navigate the lived experience of learning to grade on their own. Five themes were generated to describe this phenomenon: (a) Emotional “Tiers” of Grading (pun intended), (b) How Valid are my Hodgepodge Grading Practices? (c) Why Didn’t I Learn This in College? (d) What I Want to Change for Next Year, and (e) If Grades Could Talk, What Would They Say? The results of this study will benefit educational researchers, policy makers, and most importantly, teacher educators and in-service professional development instructors as they provide instruction on grading practices. In addition to considerations for future research, specific recommendations are made for changes to teacher education curriculum, and a call for change in policy re: both teacher licensing standards and standards-based grading. As teacher educators better understand how first-year teachers learn to assign their students’ grades based on evaluations of their learning, teacher educators will be better prepared to help teachers make meaningful and applicable learning connections to their own ideas about grading and what they are learning in college classes about best practices for grading.

This study uses the constructivist theory and validity theory for its theoretical frameworks to anchor the phenomenon of how first-year teachers learn to grade. This study took place in the American Southwest using six first-year teachers as its participants. Each of these participants is a secondary teacher of either English Language Arts or mathematics. The five themes were generated from the participants interview responses, researcher memos, and the researcher’s Epoche that allowed the researcher to verbalize the phenomenology, or lived experience, of first-year teachers as they learn to grade.


Assessment Literacy; Grading Practice Instruction; Grading Practices; Phenomenology; Standards-Based Grading; Teacher Education


Education | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Education Policy | Teacher Education and Professional Development

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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