Teacher beliefs and perceptions may align with and influence teacher practice and actions, which in turn affect student perception, behaviour and achievement (Clark and Yinger, 1980). However, teacher practice may not match teacher perception at times. This discrepancy can adversely affect student learning in the writing classroom. If teachers' marking practice differs from their perception of criteria of what makes a good essay, students will misconceive what is important in writing.
Past research has mainly focused on teachers' essay evaluation practice, discovering that teachers tend to focus on grammar (Zamel, 1985; Sommers, 1982; Searle and Dillon, 1980; Chee, 1995). Little, however, is known of teachers' perception in relation to the features which teachers consider the most important in defining a good essay (e.g. content, development or grammatical accuracy). This academic exercise seeks to fill the gap. It attempts to discover if a discrepancy or alignment exists between Singapore secondary school teachers' perception of the criteria most important in judging the quality of an essay and their essay evaluation practice, as well as determine whether they prioritise grammar over content and development factors in evaluation.
The findings reveal that neither alignment nor discrepancy between perception and practice is predominant, and that teachers in this study have a tendency to prioritise grammar over rhetorical aspects of a text because of O-level examiners' attention to grammatical correctness, the conspicuity of grammar errors and the traditional notion of grammar feedback. This prioritisation of grammar can cause students to equate a good essay to one that is free from grammatical errors, as well as lead to various problems in the writing classroom.