Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


School of Education

First Advisor

Dane Joseph, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Karen Buchanan, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Gary Sehorn, Ed.D.


This think-aloud study closely examined the cognitive processes of four high school teachers as they made grade determinations for two hypothetical students. This study serves to give insight into the often veiled process of how secondary teachers make final decisions about students’ summative grades and what cognitive biases and heuristics they rely on to make such grade decisions and, if relevant, grade changes. Each teacher participated in a two-part interview: in part one, teachers were presented with two student vignettes detailing academic, extracurricular, and background information and were directed to think aloud their process as they determined each student’s ultimate course grade; in part two, teachers were asked reflective questions. Both vignettes presented, despite being different in many facets, were crafted to prompt teachers to engage in thinking surrounding whether or not they would bump a grade that may be considered a cusp grade. Overall, the study found that teachers are generally consistent in their overarching cognitive processing across students, but differ in which heuristics they may commit from student to student. Additionally, while all teachers were shown to have engaged in heuristic thinking and System 1 and System 2 thinking, teachers vary greatly from one another in the complexity of their cognitive processes and the extent to which they rely on heuristics to determine grades. Furthermore, as they progress in the profession, teachers seem to become more flexible in their grade determination cognitive processes and become more candid about the emotional tolls and inequities of current grading practices.

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