Date of Award

Fall 12-16-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Janet Fairman

Second Committee Member

Michael Wittmann

Third Committee Member

Asli Sezen-Barrie

Additional Committee Members

John Thompson


Teachers consider many different kinds of factors in determining student grades. They use a mix of achievement and non-achievement factors in grading decisions, to the criticism of educational measurement experts (Brookhart, 1991; Brookhart, 1993; Frary et al., 1993; Popham, 2009). The factors that influence this decision making are particularly salient when teachers consider borderline grades and make decisions about raising, holding, or lowering marks. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the experiences and self-reported practices of high school physical science teachers’ decision making about borderline grades. Through a series of two semi-structured interviews, twelve participants described the contexts in which they graded and what factors they considered when making final grading decisions. Despite teaching at schools which used different guidelines and policies for grading, the teachers in this study exhibited common patterns of decision making. End-of-term marking periods and the required posting of grades often made teachers consider factors other than academic achievement in their final decisions about student grades. The teachers in this study considered factors like students’ effort or personal extenuating circumstances, but also sought to avoid perceived negative consequences for students when determining grades. In contrast to prior research, well-documented non-achievement factors: student ability and behavior, were absent in teachers’ decision-making process about borderline grades. Moreover, the teachers in this study expressed concerns about inaccuracy, bias, and subjectivity in their grading and viewed grades as having a margin of error, which appears to be less explored in research on teachers’ grading practices. Teachers utilized certain factors and reasoning consistently at high and low grade borders when deciding whether to increase the final end of term borderline grade. These practices suggest the teachers in this study framed (Tannen, 1978, 1979, 1993; Hammer et al., 2006) borderline grading differently for each border, applied different schemas to different borders, and viewed grading as more than solely the assessment of academic achievement. Previous research has characterized teachers’ overall grading practices are “hodgepodge” and idiosyncratic (Brookhart, 1991; Cizek et al, 1995; Cross & Frary, 1999). The results of this study contradict this characterization and found that teachers were consistent in their decision-making about students’ end-of -term borderline grades along particular borders, regardless of differences in school or district grading guidelines.