Research in Science Education

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 437–455 | Cite as

Faculty Grading of Quantitative Problems: A Mismatch between Values and Practice

  • Heather L. Petcovic
  • Herb Fynewever
  • Charles Henderson
  • Jacinta M. Mutambuki
  • Jeffrey A. Barney


Grading practices can send a powerful message to students about course expectations. A study by Henderson et al. (American Journal of Physics 72:164–169, 2004) in physics education has identified a misalignment between what college instructors say they 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. These authors propose that when values are in conflict, the conflict is resolved by placing the burden of proof on either the instructor or the student. Here, we extend the results of the physics study to earth science (n = 7) and chemistry (n = 10) instructors in a think-aloud interview study. Our results suggest that both the previously identified three values and the misalignment between values and grading practices exist among science faculty more generally. Furthermore, we identified a fourth value not previously recognized. Although all of the faculty across both studies stated that they valued seeing student reasoning, the combined effect suggests that only 49% of faculty across the three disciplines 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.


Grading Quantitative problem solving Faculty development Physics Chemistry Earth science 



We would like to thank the faculty members who participated in this research project. Dr. Lisa DeChano-Cook and Dr. Robert Ruhf contributed to the development of the earth science problem and student solutions. Comments and feedback by faculty and graduate student colleagues Dr. David W. Rudge, Caitlin Callahan, Matthew Ludwig, and Kate Rowbotham have greatly improved this manuscript. We are also grateful to the two reviewers and editorial staff whose comments enhanced this paper. This project was funded in part by our university, and work by one graduate student researcher (JB) was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (USA) under grant #0733590.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heather L. Petcovic
    • 1
  • Herb Fynewever
    • 2
  • Charles Henderson
    • 3
  • Jacinta M. Mutambuki
    • 4
  • Jeffrey A. Barney
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Geosciences and the Mallinson Institute for Science EducationWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA
  2. 2.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryCalvin CollegeGrand RapidsUSA
  3. 3.Department of Physics and the Mallinson Institute for Science EducationWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA
  4. 4.The Mallinson Institute for Science EducationWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA

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