Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Feedback/Peer Evaluation

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What role should peer evaluation play in grading and course work?

In 2002 Kristja J. Falvo, a mother of three, sued the Owasso Independent School District in Oklahoma claiming that peer grading embarrasses her children as well as violates the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) after learning that some teachers were allowing the students to grade each others work and call the grades out loud.

FERPA is a twenty six year old law that prohibits schools from disclosing a student’s educational record to any third party without parental consent. Falvo considered allowing the students to know the grades of others a violation of the privacy act. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the common practice of peer evaluation does not violate the federal law. However, school districts may still decide to ban peer grading from their schools. (Simpson) Each school district would probably want to evaluate the pros and cons of peer grading before coming to a final decision.

Pros Regarding Peer Evaluation[edit]

There are many arguments supporting peer grading, not only for the student, but for the teacher as well. Many studies have been done to draw the following conclusions.

Student Advantages[edit]

Peer evaluation helps student in a variety of ways. It helps to sharpen their critical skills as well as their social responsibility. They are able to gain insight into some of the difficulties teachers come across when grading. Realizing what goes into the grading and evaluating process will help many students to understand and appreciate the grades that they have received as well as the people that gave them those grades. (Wilson) Also, the practice of peer evaluation supports involvement of both right and left brains through personal application of knowledge. Not only do student get to exercise their own knowledge on a certain topic but as they review another person’s work or performance, they are forced to look at certain material through the eyes of another person as well. (McLeod)

According to Hoyt Wilson, peer rating have been found to be valid evaluators of student performance. This is an advantage to both the student doing evaluating and the student being evaluated. After children observe peer responses, whether to an assignment or to their behavior in class, there is a natural tendency for them to determine why such reactions occur. In some cases, this could help student be able to realize their weak points and work on fixing them.

Teacher Advantages[edit]

Peer evaluation promotes a feeling of team learning between teachers and students. As the teacher is able to connect with the students on this level, it gives him or her a chance to 1. encourage students to contribute openly, 2. encourage sharing materials and resources, 3. promote expressing acceptance and support during interactions, and 4. point out rejecting and non supportive behaviors that hinder peer evaluation. (Ornstein) All of these lessons in peer evaluation go beyond the classroom and can help the students in group situations for the rest of their lives. Without the atmosphere that peer evaluation creates, the students would not be as receptive to these concepts.

Cons Regarding Peer Evaluation[edit]

Although many of the arguments in support of peer evaluation make it seem like a great addition to class work, there are still many people who believe that it is negative in the classroom for both students and teachers.

Student Disadvantages[edit]

I think organization if better if the teacher tells me what to do. I think I do not like my neighbor to read my composition. I have many mistakes…my class friend will laugh.

—Student involved in peer revising study in Hong Kong

For the student being evaluated there is, according to some, obvious disadvantages. For example, studies show that even if the peer evaluation is planned and controlled by the teacher, social relations will play a part. (Sengupta) Basically, students are more likely to give their friends a better grade than they deserve or give a worse grade to someone that they don’t like. Also, many students have complained about tough grading and unfair scores.

Some also argue that the whole peer evaluation process is a waste of time. Many students are busier figuring out easy ways to complete the evaluation sheet than evaluating the text. Also, even if an evaluator thoroughly read or evaluated a student’s performance, the person being evaluated will be selective when considering suggestions from peers. They usually rely on their own knowledge instead. (Sengupta) This defeats the purpose of the evaluation because the student is not going to notice the same things wrong with his or her assignment that a second party will notice; such as misspellings and grammar errors.

Teacher Disadvantages[edit]

In the past, by allowing students to grade one another’s assignments, there have been cases of plagiarism and copying. (McLeod) This is more concerned with grading assignments than evaluating performance, but it is still an issue for many teachers.

Also, students are not always trustworthy of their peers. If a suggestion is given by a fellow student, it will probably be disregarded. However, if the same suggestion is given by the teacher, the student will take it into account. (Sengupta) This causes a problem for the teacher because it makes it that much harder to push the behaviors that make the peer evaluation process successful.


Bias both occurs with the student and the teacher however it is particularly crucial when it comes time to peer evaluation and grading. First off evaluation and grading are two different things. A bias is much more damaging when grading is occurring. It is hard enough for teachers who have been trained for years to avoid bias, teaching students to put aside their own bias and differences when grading is much more difficult. A student could not like a fellow classmate and grade them poorly. A teacher must closely supervise peer editing to make sure it is a fair experience.


Looking at both the pros and cons of peer evaluation and grading in the classroom makes it easy to understand why there are people both supporting and rejecting it. However, just reading through the data will not help anyone come to a certain conclusion. The age and maturity of the children, the experience of the teacher, as well as the subject matter are all to be taken into consideration. Peer evaluation is a process in which trial and error is the only way to determine if it will work in a particular school district, or even a particular classroom.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Why did Falvo claim that peer grading violates FERPA?
A. Her kids were embarrassed.
B. The teacher picked on her kids.
C. The other students knew her kid’s grades.
D. Her kids had bad grades.

C. The other students knew her kid’s grades.

If Megan evaluated her best friend, what would most likely happen?
A. She would give her friend a good evaluation whether she deserved it or not.
B. She would not be allowed to evaluate her friend.
C. She would give her friend a bad evaluation so the teacher wouldn’t suspect anything.
D. She would not think about the fact that she is evaluating a friend and give her the evaluation that she deserves.

A. She would give her friend a good evaluation whether she deserved it or not.

According to those who support peer evaluation, if a peer evaluation tells John that he acts out too much in class he is likely to:
A. Keep acting out.
B. Determine why the evaluator said that and work on fixing it.
C. Beat up the person who said it.
D. Wait until the teacher makes the same comment, then take it into consideration.

B. Determine why the evaluator said that and work on fixing it.

According to those who reject peer evaluation, if a peer evaluation tells John that he acts out too much in class he is likely to:
A. Keep acting out.
B. Determine why the evaluator said that and work on fixing it.
C. Beat up the person who said it.
D. Wait until the teacher makes the same comment, then take it into consideration.

D. Wait until the teacher makes the same comment, then take it into consideration.

Why is personal application of knowledge important?
A. It makes the teacher feel smart.
B. Students get better test grades.
C. It helps separate the smart kids from everyone else.
D. It involves both the right and left brains.

D. It involves both the right and left brains.

Bias occurs...
A. With just students.
B. With just teachers.
C. With students and teachers.

C. With students and teachers.

Teachers must...
A. Let students freely grade and critique each other.
B. Closely monitor peer revision and grading.
C. Forbid all peer revision and grading.

B. Closely monitor peer revision and grading.

A student may grade a fellow student poorly...
A. Because of financial benefit.
B. Because of a teachers instruction.
C. Because of a former conflict involving the two.

C. Because of a former conflict involving the two.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

Choose a con of peer evaluation and discuss a way to resolve it.

One of the cons of peer evaluating is that students give grades and evaluations according to who their friends are. When having students grade each other's work, the teacher could mark out the names so that the evaluator would not know whose paper they had. This way, the student would be focused on the content of the assignment and not on the name at the top. When doing an evaluation of classroom behavior, send the students to different classes to observe and evaluate people that they don’t know. This would be effective because in a different classroom the student could focus on the performance of others without having to worry about the material being taught. They could give the teacher an unbiased observation of how the students behaved during class. Each class could take turns doing this throughout the year. Also, since students mostly worry about finding the easiest way to complete an evaluation sheet, the teacher could focus on thought provoking questions. This way, the student would have to put a lot of thought into the evaluation process so that they person being evaluated can have an idea of what others really think.


  • Gillette, Sandy. Interview. April 22, 2007.
  • McLeod, Al. In Lieu of Tests [Electronic Version] NTLF's Frequently Asked Questions on College and University Teaching and Learning
  • Ornstein, Allan C. and Lasley, Thomas J. Strategies for Effective Teaching Third Edition. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2000) 463-464.
  • Sengupta, Sima. (1998) Peer Evaluation: 'I am not the teacher' [Electronic Version]. ELT Journal, 52, 19-28.
  • Simpson, Michael D. Supreme Court Upholds Peer Grading, in NEA Today, May 2002.
  • Sutcliffe, Alexis. Interview. April 20, 2007.
  • Stevens, Robert J. ed. Teaching in American Schools. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill, 1999). 159.
  • Wilson, Hoyt G. (1988) Parameter Estimation for Peer Grading under Incomplete Design [Electronic Version]. Educational and Psychological Measurement, vol.48, no.1, p 69-81.