Can You Trust Peer Evaluations?

The short answer is yes, according to research, students are able to give very good evaluations that are often as good or better than their teachers. The long answer is that for peer grading and peer assessment to be trusted certain steps need to be taken to help ensure its validity.

Insuring Validity

1. Anonymous feedback

An online platform, like Peergrade, where both the giver and receiver of feedback are anonymous will offer more objective feedback with a higher quality. This will remove the possible bias of social relations from the process of giving feedback, as student’s might worry about giving critical feedback to their friends.

Additionally, in face-to-face peer review, students are often more concerned about social dynamics, such as whether they will be perceived as mean or embarrass their peers, than providing accurate peer feedback (Christianakis, 2010; Peterson, 2003).

2. Feedback from 3+ students

In order to assure trustworthiness, students should receive feedback from several of their peers. We encourage teachers using Peergrade to have students peer grade at least three of their fellow students. This is done in order to offer a more objective review of the assignment (and provide a statistical trend). It is also beneficial to the student, the more feedback they receive the more likely the are to receive the feedback that they really need.

“The reliability of several evaluators’ combined ratings is higher than the reliability of a single evaluator’s ratings (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 1991), and this multiple-ratings factor may overcome differences in the reliability of instructors versus students.” (Cho, K., Schunn, C. D., & Wilson, R. W. 2006).

3. Best results through scaffolding

It cannot be stressed enough that in order to ensure that students are able to give good feedback, it is essential that the teacher has given clear guidelines and prepared well thought out evaluation criteria. Giving feedback needs to be considered a new skill that students are learning, take this into consideration when developing evaluation criteria, as students may require more detailed instruction in the beginning to grow these skills.

Research has namely shown that students are able to give great feedback, but only if they have the guidelines to do so.

Studies at the college level have demonstrated that when students are guided by a clear rubric and held accountable for the quality of their peer feedback, their assessments of their peers’ writing have strong reliability and validity (Cho, K., Schunn, C. D., & Wilson, R. W. 2006).

We have written a few articles about the importance of and how to create great rubrics. Check them out here and here.

4. Accountability

In combination with clear and detailed rubrics, holding students accountable and offering incentives will help ensure validity. When students know that the feedback they write has value and potential consequences, they will be more likely to put the time and effort into creating meaningful feedback. Students will also pay more attention to the rubrics and guidelines provided by the teacher, not only helping them give focused feedback but also encouraging self-reflection and self-assessment.

The Takeaway

Peer grading can provide valuable feedback for students while also improving critical thinking skills and encouraging self-reflection. Those benefits alone are worth implementing peer grading in the classroom, but when done correctly students can also produce valid and trustworthy grades.


Cho, K., Schunn, C. D., & Wilson, R. W. (2006). Validity and reliability of scaffolded peer assessment of writing from instructor and student perspectives. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(4), 891–901. doi:10.1037/0022–0663.98.4.891

Nicol, D., Thomson, A., & Breslin, C. (2013). Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: A peer review perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(1), 102–122.

Schunn, C., Godley, A., & DeMartino, S. (2016, July/August). The Reliability and Validity of Peer Review of Writing in High School AP English Classes.Journal of Adolescence & Adult Literacy, 60(1), 13–23.

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