Given student motivation to get grades and the prevalence of cheating, most faculty would never seriously consider letting students grade their own work. However, self-grading, especially of homework, does accrue some significant benefits. It can move students away from doing homework for points to making them more aware of why and how doing problems helps them learn. If students grade their own work, they see exactly where they are making mistakes. And they obtain that feedback far sooner than if the instructor collects the homework, grades it, and then returns it some days later.
But could a system like this ever be designed so that cheating is controlled? Nelta M. Edwards (reference below) describes a method that shows promise. In his social statistics course, students grade their own homework at the beginning of the period on the day the assignment is due. If a student isn’t in class with completed homework, no credit is awarded. Edwards passes out an answer key that not only provides the correct answer, but shows all the steps needed to solve the problem and includes other comments, explanations, warnings, and tips. Edwards used to make these comments repeatedly on individual problem sets only to discover that students seldom read or heeded the advice. When students grade their own work, Edwards finds that they attend to information on the keys more closely, even using the keys as study guides to prepare for exams.
Students score each problem using a 0 to 4 scale. If they made no attempt to solve the problem, they assign themselves a 0. For an answer that is partially correct, students may assign themselves between 1 and 3 points. A perfect answer gets a 4. Students score each individual problem and then put a total score on the top of their paper.
Edwards then collects the graded homework. “Before the next class, I recheck the self-graded homework. For the first several weeks, I recheck all of the homework very carefully until I think that students have a firm grasp of the grading scale. Later in the semester, I check the homework less thoroughly; in my experience, an overwhelming majority of students grade homework problems either exactly or very closely to how I would have graded them.” (p. 73)
Edwards uses much the same system to have students grade their own exams. In this case, though, correct answers are revealed one at a time on an overhead projector. This keeps everyone on the same page. Edwards also collects and carefully checks student grading on the exams as well.
Student response to this self-grading system is very positive. Eighty-six percent evaluate it either as a “good” or “great” teaching method. And the reasons they give for liking it verify that the approach is accomplishing its intended goals. Students see the value of identifying their own mistakes shortly after making them. “You learn more when you find out what you did right or wrong.” (p. 74)
Edwards sees one final benefit. “My impression is that self-grading alleviates student anxiety and, subsequently, eases student-teacher conflict by demystifying the grading process and making students feel that they have control over their own evaluation.” (p. 75) When students ask questions about homework or exam problems, they are interested in how many points should be taken off for certain kinds of errors. They aren’t complaining about the problems or grousing about the difficulty of the homework assignments or exams.
Reference: Edwards, N. M. (2007). Student self-grading in social statistics. College Teaching, 55 (2), 72-76.
Excerpted from Students Self-Grade: A Successful Model, The Teaching Professor, Aug.-Sept. 2007.