This article focuses on how teachers use student peer evaluation in their classrooms. Student peer evaluation is a method of formative assessment that can be a powerful tool for improved student performance. Suggestions are given for effective peer evaluation strategies. The article also includes the advantages and disadvantages of using student peer evaluation and addresses the concerns of students and parents and how they can be mediated.
Keywords Assessment; Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974; Formative Assessment; Peer Evaluation; Peer Grading; Portfolio; Reflection; Rubric; Student Feedback; Teamwork; Valid Feedback
Student peer evaluation, or peer assessment, is a method of formative assessment that, when properly executed, can be a powerful educational tool that helps many students improve classroom performance. Peer evaluation or assessment can mean different things, such as students grading other students' homework, quizzes, and papers; a technique used to improve teamwork in the classroom; an aid to determine each individual's effort and individual grades on team projects; and a way to expose poor, average, and above-average students to other bodies of work. Peer assessment in a teamwork environment is a process in which instructors can adjust each student's grade for team assignments. Teachers use data collected by asking team members to evaluate other team members in terms of participation, body of work, and quality of work. There are a few concepts that should be taken into consideration when implementing a peer evaluation program because students may not have had much experience with peer evaluation. Students should be told as early as possible that they will be peer evaluators, and they should be provided with rubrics and any other information that can help them understand the assessment and evaluation process. Students should also be given time to practice evaluating assignments that will not affect anyone's grades. As with any type of formative assessment, feedback is an important component of peer evaluation (The Foundation Coalition, 2007).
Traditional Classroom Setting
A traditional classroom is instructor controlled and tends to be a summative learning experience. The instructor dictates the assignments; the student complete the assignment; and then the instructor evaluate the work submitted, assigns a grade, and returns the assignment to the students. When student peer evaluation enters the picture, the instructor must be willing to cede some of the classroom power to the students and encourage them to turn to each other, while the instructor is always available to provide assistance and guidance when necessary.
Peer evaluation came under close scrutiny when the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the claimant in Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo. At the heart of the claim was a parent's assertion that peer grading violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) and subjected her children to embarrassment and humiliation in the classroom. However, on February 19, 2002, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that peer grading does not violate federal law. In an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme court recognized that peer grading can be a valuable educational tool stating, "It is a way to teach material again in a new context," and that it helps instructors determine "whether the students have understood the material and are ready to move on" (cited in Simpson, 2002, p. 20). Even though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of peer grading, individual school districts are left to decide for themselves whether or not they want to implement or ban the practice.
In the earlier grades, students tend to have typical childish responses when faced with peer evaluations, but they also have the same initial skepticism and doubts that most students express when they first encounter peer evaluation. Lensmire (1992) provides an example of third grade students showing typical patterns of girls wanting to pair off with girls and boys wanting to pair off with other boys. These students also tended to be divided by social class, with those who lived in a trailer park only associating with other students from the trailer park and others dividing by their neighborhoods. Teachers implementing peer evaluation in the lower grades can have a more difficult time than middle or high school teachers because younger children tend to only want to work with their friends, and all identified children they did not want to work with (Lensmire, 1992). The data showed, however, that the few instances that did arise came from the children working with each other on the project and not from instances of children teasing or hurting each other when they were paired together. Most students reported enjoying working with their classmates and sharing their work with the rest of the class despite all their initial misgivings. One way to try to assure satisfaction and success of an ongoing peer evaluation program is to begin by letting students pick their own partners to work with to get them comfortable with the process and how it works. From there, the instructor can start blending the pairs by gender and social class, which can also help teach tolerance and understanding (Lensmire, 1992).
Portfolios are a good way for grade school students to enter into the world of peer evaluation. Very few assessment tools can match portfolios for showcasing the best of students' work and their progress throughout the term or year. Instructors can have students share their portfolios regularly. By having other students review the portfolio, teachers ensure that each portfolio remains a true representation of what is going on in the classroom. One way to use peer evaluation with portfolios is to have each student hand their portfolio to a student who will read through it and write comments on sticky notes and then pass it on to another student. The instructor keeps track of who has looked at what and makes sure that each student in the class has an opportunity to look at and comment on everyone else's portfolio, which not only encourages learning but also helps students get to know their classmates a little better (Hill, Kamber & Norwick, n.d.).
Once an instructor has decided to implement peer evaluation in the curriculum, it is important to determine what kind of work lends itself best to student peer evaluation. Writing classes seem to be one of the most appropriate, and the following example from Johnson (2001) is an account of a remedial writing class for eleventh graders; however, the setup of the class should work for many other grades. This particular class was comprised of students who had yet to pass their writing proficiency exams, which meant they would not graduate from high school until they did, making it truly a high-stakes, high-stress classroom environment that had successful results using student peer evaluation. These were all students who had never really been able to see what a passing paper actually looked like because all they ever saw were their own papers given back to them with instructor comments. The instructor was able to hand his students copies of other students' work-some strong, some weak, some proficiency exam appropriate, some not. By having access to these exams, they could all begin evaluation sessions by putting themselves in the place of the official exam readers. The students were given a scoring rubric so they could try to make...
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