Date of Award
Doctor of Education (EdD)
Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
A plethora of research has documented the detrimental effects of assigning grades, A-F, to student work as well as the inherent inequities embedded in this century-old assessment practice that persists in the majority of US higher education institutions. Coupled with the ubiquitous Grade Point Average (GPA) and prevailing neoliberal audit culture in HEI, grades serve to maintain a social hierarchy veiled by the myth of meritocracy and objectivity. The goal of this study was to investigate how grades operate as a text to mediate social relations and how faculty participate in the social organization of ruling regimes, often unknowingly. This study aim is to 1) illuminate how assessment policies, texts and discourses act on academics and 2) analyze how assessment discourses and policies subjectify academics as assessors. This project is informed by two theoretical frameworks: Institutional Ethnography (IE) and Foucault’s conceptualization of disciplinary power and governmentality. Both theorists are interested in tracing the relations of ruling and governing. IE is a research approach for scholarship and activism. IE offers a method to begin to investigate the problematic of grading for faculty by tracing how the institutional relations of global capitalism organize faculty daily work through grades and professional discourses. Foucault’s theorization of disciplinary power and governmentality complemented this investigation by tracing the relations of governing through the technology of grades to regulate subjects. Juxtaposing these two theoretical frameworks to “read” grades, affords an expansive understanding of how power operates in assessment practices at the microlevel within higher education’s broader discursive context. This inquiry into the disjuncture of grading, reveals not only how assessment reforms undermine a faculty member’s best intentions as an educator but also how assessment reforms without radical structural transformation will continue to fail.
Number of Pages
Ultsch, Sharon, "Using Institutional Ethnography To Illuminate the Contested Space of Grading" (2021). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 1459.
Available for download on Friday, July 28, 2023