Academic journal article College Student Journal


Academic journal article College Student Journal


Article excerpt

College students expect their grades to be fair. Most institutions acknowledge this, requiring faculty to publish clear grading requirements in their syllabi.

D. R. Sadler (2010) has explored grade integrity arguing that student achievement should be evaluated via fixed external anchor points (standards). He notes, however, that the most common measure of academic achievement--final course grade--includes non-achievement elements such as how other students in class perform (p.728).

Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and his co-researcher the late Amos Tversky conducted seminal research in the psychology of decision-making, eventually resulting in a Nobel Prize in economics for Kahneman (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974; Tversky & Kahneman, 1981; Tversky, & Kahneman, 1983). While most economists assumed that human decision-making was at its core rational, Kahneman and Tversky demonstrated that often it was anything but. Sometimes people just ignore the probabilities of the different outcomes likely with each alternative choice; Tversky and Kahneman called this cognitive bias the base-rate fallacy.

The current study concentrates on another of their cognitive biases: the framing effect. The framing effect is when people respond very differently based upon how the choice is defined; to illustrate, decision-makers make radically different choices when an identical problem is framed in terms of "number of lives saved" versus "number of lives lost" (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981, p. 453).

Juxtaposing Sadler's (2010) research with Tversky and Kahneman's (1981) findings about framing, the current study addresses the likelihood that a college student will ask their professor for a grade change when their grade is borderline to a higher one (i.e. they have a "F" grade that is close to a "D" or a "B" grade that is close an "A").

A key external "anchor point" (as Sadler, 2010 would call it) for this decision is the syllabus' grading scale. The current study pilots The Grading Survey^ exploring college students' views of grade fairness from a decision-making perspective, focusing on the type of scale being used. Do college students prefer grading on a point scale (e.g. 450 to 500 of 500 points earns an "A") or a percentile scale (e.g. 90% to 100% of 500 points earns an "A")? Does this subtle difference in the way the scale is framed have real effects on a student's view of their grade's integrity (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981; Sadler, 2010)?



A total of 209 undergraduate students at a small southern university participated in the Grading Survey[c] (G.S.[c]). The sample was drawn from one freshman-level General Psychology class (n=76, 36.4%), two sophomore-level Psychology of Personality classes (n=75, 35.9%), one sophomore-level Child Psychology class (n=35, 16.7%) and one junior-level Abnormal Psychology class (n=23, 11.0%). Some participants received extra credit. Students in classes offering extra credit could earn the same credit by completing an alternative project.

A total of 72 freshman, 76 sophomores, 49 juniors, and 12 seniors were sampled. The mean age of the 60 male (28.7%) and 149 female (71.3%) undergraduates was 20.2 years (SD = 3.2). Participants ranged from 18 to 43 years old. A total of 46 first-semester freshmen from the General Psychology class did not have a G.P.A. the average for the remaining sample was 2.79 (SD = .66, n = 163).


The Grading Survey[c]. The G.S.[c] contained general demographic questions (e.g. gender, G.P.A.) and questions related to grading. All questions were either "darken the circle of the best response", "fill in the blank" or Likert-type response items.

Forms were identical except for the order of two questions and the content of two others about borderline grades. To counterbalance any primacy effect, 109 of the forms presented the G.S.[c] item concerning preference for a point grading scale before the corresponding item about preference for a percentile grading scale, while the remaining 100 forms presented the item concerning preference for a percentile scale before the corresponding item about preference for a point grading scale. …

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