April 8th, 2010

Inflated Self-Assessment


I wonder about the long-term effects of grades on the ability to self-assess. I got to thinking about this after I read the study referenced below. In it, 97 students assessed the participation of their peers and their own participation. Professors in the study also assessed students’ participation. The researchers looked at the correlations between peer assessment and teacher asssessments, and between self assessment and teacher assessments.

With the peer assessments, students were instructed to use a normal grade distribution—in other words they couldn’t give every one a 4 (the highest rating). Students didn’t like using the normal grade distribution, but when they did, their assessments correlated highly with those given by the teacher. That was not the case with self assessments. Even though these self assessments had no impact on the actual participation grade students received, students still significantly over-evaluated their participation, most commonly giving themselves a 4 out of 4.

Now why would students inflate their self assessments when those assessments didn’t count? The researchers wonder if they didn’t understand what was happening to their ratings. Or, maybe students were just hoping their assessments might influence the instructor in some subconscious way. Or, maybe if they didn’t count, students didn’t care and just gave themselves what they hoped they would get as opposed to what they thought they deserved.

It’s impossible to tell but I worry about those self-assessment skills. Educated professionals need to be able to accurately assess what they are doing and how they are doing it. Where is that skill being developed in the college experience? And worse yet, are policies and practices in place that hinder its development?

And there’s another question, not answerable from this (or other work): Are students accurately assessing their participation (in this case) but giving themselves a higher rating anyway? Or do they really believe they did participate at the highest level? You know there is s similar problem when faculty are asked to rate themselves as teachers. We are all above average. Is that what we really think or what we’d very much like to believe?

Reference: Ryan, G. J., Marshall, L. L., Porter, K., and Jia, H. (2007). Peer, professor and self-evaluation of class participation. Active Learning in Higher Education, 8, 49-61.