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Advisory Committee Chair

Jerry L Patterson

Advisory Committee Members

Loucrecia Collins

Margaret Rice

Scott Snyder

Connie Williams

Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Award

2009

Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) School of Education

Abstract

The use of single letter grades from A to F to report academic progress from school to home remains a core practice in American secondary schools despite calls for reform extending back more than three decades. One possible reason for the failure of such reform to catch on at this level is that adequate attention has not been given to understanding how teachers at this level are using grades to accomplish things beyond the reporting of simple achievement. The purpose of this grounded theory study was to discover the decision-making process associated with the assignment of final term grades by secondary public school teachers in a suburban school district in central Alabama and develop a theoretical model which explains this process. The central research question which guided this study was: What model can best describe how teachers make decisions regarding the final term grades to assign to students? A theoretical sample of 25 middle and high school teachers representing the core academic disciplines participated in interviews regarding their experiences related to the assignment of final term grades. Transcripts from the interviews were subjected to open, axial, and selective coding analysis to produce a propositional and visual model of the grading decision process. This model was based on the findings that secondary teachers base their intended representation of final grades on an individually derived balance of student engagement and achievement with achievement playing the largest role, that differences in specific practices between grade levels and subject areas were diminished when the focus was centered on the intended representation of final grades, that student engagement plays a larger role in the grading decision process when numerical averages are close to the boundary of the next highest letter grade, and that teachers are more or less willing to consider moderation of the final grade in light of student engagement based upon their individual success orientation and understanding of fairness. This study calls for continued grading reform at the secondary level which acknowledges and supports the teachers' expressed need to balance representations of both engagement and achievement in the assignment of grades.

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