Release No.: 02-06
For Immediate Release: February 25, 2002
Harvard Study Teaches the Supreme Court a Thing or Two
Cambridge, MA - Breathing a collective sigh of relief that they are not violating federal law, the
nation's teachers return this week to the widespread practice of letting students correct each
other's papers. On Tuesday, February 19th, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Falvo vs.
Owasso School System, deciding that grading another student's paper is legal. The court rejected
the "politically correct" view that students' grades must be secret from their classmates. The court
offered the view that students can learn as much from grading each other's tests as they do from
taking them and save their teachers time, as well. Yet, the case is not closed on the educational
effectiveness of such practices.
A recent study conducted by Dr. Philip Sadler, the Director of the Science Education Department
at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and his Harvard Graduate School of
Education student, Eddie Good, examined the impact of peer-grading and self-grading. Sadler and
Good wanted to determine whether the grades that students award themselves can actually
replace their teacher's grades and whether any additional learning results when students grade
tests. In four of Mr. Good's middle-school science classrooms at the Ephraim Curtis Middle
School in Sudbury, MA, 101 students learned how to evaluate tests using written guidelines.
They used time in class to correct tests and vigorously debate their judgments. "Even though the
assessment included many open-ended essay questions," said Sadler, "students quickly learned to
award grades with an accuracy that rivaled their teacher. Despite the opportunity for embellishing
one's own grade, students still graded their own tests more accurately than the tests of their
classmates. Only students on the lower end of the performance scale tended to inflate their own
scores when grading themselves."
The surprise came following the results of an unannounced, second administration of the same
test a week later, intending to measure whether student grading results in increased learning.
"This was something we really did not expect," adds Sadler. "It put a whole new light on grading
exams." Those students who graded a classmate's test did not improve significantly over a control
group of students who did not grade any tests at all. However, students who graded their own
test improved dramatically the second time they took it. Moreover, self-grading contributed to a
rise in test scores for students at all performance levels. While peer-grading saves time for the
teacher, it was self-grading that proved more educationally valuable.
Sadler and Good applaud the Supreme Court in their affirmation of student-grading as a
legitimate teaching practice, but urge that these grades count only if students are taught to grade
accurately. With self-grading showing a huge advantage over peer-grading in science learning,
Sadler and Good hope that researchers will continue to study the impact of such popular teaching
methods on the nation's school children. Often the results run counter to intuition or accepted
Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
(CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the
Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists organized into seven research divisions study the
origin, evolution, and ultimate fate of the universe.
For more information, contact:
David A. Aguilar, Public Affairs
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Phone: 617-495-7462 Fax: 617-495-7468 email@example.com