This study examined differences in the criteria used by college and university instructors in the United States to assign course grades. Two hundred and fifty course syllabi (159 from universities and 91 from four-year colleges) developed by randomly selected instructors from five academic disciplines (education, maths, science, psychology, and English) were examined to determine the extent to which instructors employed different criteria in assigning course grades in introductory-level courses. Sources of variation in grade assignment included the use of product versus process criteria, the prevalence of using performance exams, and the framing criteria for grades. Differences between institution types and among academic disciplines were also investigated. Results revealed significant differences among the five academic disciplines in grading criteria and the use of examinations, with instructors in education and English relying more heavily on process criteria. A significant interaction between institution type and academic discipline in grading criteria was also identified. Theoretical, practical, and policy implications are discussed along with avenues for further research.

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Published in Assessment in Education, v. 27, issue 5.

© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

This is an Accepted Manuscript version of the following article, accepted for publication in Assessment in Education. Lipnevich, A. A., Guskey, T. R., Murano, D. M., & Smith, J. K. (2020). What do grades mean? Variation in grading criteria in American college and university courses. Assessment in Education, 27(5), 480–500. https://doi.org/10.1080/0969594X.2020.1799190 It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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The data upon which the findings of this study are based are available on request from the corresponding author.

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