Faculty of Education

Faculty of Education
Faculty of Education

What's in a Grade?

What’s in a grade? A multiple perspective validity study on grading policies, practices, values, and consequences

Liying​Dr. Liying Cheng (Principal Investigator), together with Dr. Christopher DeLuca (Co-investigator), are investigating the validity of grades by examining the policies, practices, values and consequences of teacher constructed grades in Canada and China. This study is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant (2015-2020).

News Announcement: SSHRC Insight Grant Awards


  • Grad boundaries chart

    Grading policies

  • Grading practices graphic

    Grading practices

  • Grading practices in a spreadsheet

    Grading practices

  • Comic of parent-teacher conference


  • Meme describing Asian values about grades


What’s is in a grade? 
Grading, the process of summating student achievement using a numerical or ordinal scale, is a complex evaluative practice that requires teachers to make judgments about student learning. Grades are used, most notably, to make public statements to students, parents, principals, and other educators about student achievement. Grading is one of the most high-stakes classroom assessment practices, with significant consequences for student self-perception, motivation for learning, prioritization of certain curriculum expectations, parental expectations, and social relationships.
Why is this study important?
Grades are often used as the high-stakes decision-making tool for accepting students into Canadian universities. However, grades are not constructed or valued consistently across contexts internationally. Understanding differences in the learning culture of grading within and across these two countries is important to enable valid interpretations of student achievement based on grades. Given the use of grades for student promotion, mobilization, and admission into educational programs internationally, the purpose of this study is to investigate the validity of grades by examining the policies, practices, values and consequences of teacher constructed grades in Canada and China.

Theoretical Framework
Given that this study focuses on the validity of grading within and across two distinct learning cultures–Canada and China–we draw on a contemporary validity framework that examines socio-cultural and contextual evidence related to grading policies, practices, values, and consequences. We integrate the perspectives of teachers, students, parents, and principals to understand the socio-cultural factors influencing the validity of grades within and across Canada and China. 

Research Method
This study employs a sequential mixed-methods design, featuring multiple iterations of data collection and analysis with multiple participants over five years. 

Graphic describing research methods from year 1-5

Research Team
Liying ChengCheng, Liying
Acting Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, Professor of Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language
Christopher DeLucaDeLuca, Christopher
Associate Professor of Classroom Assessment
Wei YanYan, Wei
Ph.D in Measurement, Assessment, Policy, Leadership, Evaluation (MAPLE)
Adelina ValiquetteValiquette, Adelina
Ph.D. Measurement, Assessment, Policy, Leadership, Evaluation (MAPLE)
Our Publications and Presentations in Grading

Cheng, L., & Sun, Y. (2015). Teachers’ grading decision making: Multiple influencing factors and methods. Language Assessment Quarterly, 12, 213–233.

Liu, X. (2013). Investigating Factors Influencing Grading Decision among Teachers of Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages (Unpublished master’s thesis). Queen’s University, Canada.

Liu, X., & Yan, W. (2016). Grading in East Asia: An examination of government policies (From the 2014 Rosa Bruno-Jofré Symposium in Education). Graduate Student Symposium Selected Papers, 10, 73-96. 

Sun, Y., & Cheng, L. (2014). Teachers’ grading practices: Meaning and values assigned. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 21, 326–343.

Zhou, C. (2015). Examining the alignment of grading policies in the Chinese education system (Unpublished master’s project). Queen’s University, Canada.


DeLuca, C., Braund, H., Valiquette, A., & Cheng, L. (2017). Grading policies and practices in Canada: A landscape study. Paper will be presented at the 2017 American Educational Research Association (AERA), San Antonio, TX.

Cheng L., DeLuca, C., Braund, H., Mei Y., Valiquette, A., Yan, W., & Xing, D. (2016). The learning value of grades? Exploring grading policies in Canada and China. Paper presented at the 44th Canadian Educational Researchers’ Association- Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CERA-CSSE 2016), Calgary, AB.

Liu, X., Yan, W., & Cheng, L. (2015). Understanding Grading Policies in East Asian Contexts. Paper presented at the 43th Canadian Educational Researchers’ Association- Canadian Society for the Study of Education 2015 (CERA-CSSE 2015), Ottawa, ON.

Yan, W., Cheng, L., Mei, Y., & Xing, D. (2016). Demystifying the grading policies: International implications across educational systems. Poster presented at the 3rd Canadian Assessment for Learning Network (CAfLN 2016), Kingston, ON.

Yan, W. & Liu, X. (2014). Grading in Asia: An Examination of Government and School Policies. Poster presented at the 14th Annual Rosa Bruno-Jofré Symposium in Education (RBJSE 2014), Kingston, ON.