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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Columns

Professors should increase use of blind grading


Blind grading eliminates bias and allows each student to receive fair evaluation. The positive results of blind grading show it should be implemented as much as possible. | Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia commons/user: Magnus Mankse

Essays and other projects that inherently require a more subjective grading procedure open the door to conscious or unconscious bias based on who submitted the assignment and what the instructor makes of that person. For this reason, a policy of blind grading, wherein teachers are not privy to who submitted the work before them, should be pursued when possible to create a fairer grading system.

To argue that blind grading is necessary implies that educators are often not able to maintain complete objectivity when knowledgeable of who submitted an assignment. This point, which may seem insulting to teachers, is not indicative of a flaw in their work but rather highlights an important reality.

Teachers are human, too, and as such they gather information and impressions from the students around them.

Blind grading recognizes the fact that, more often than not, impressions of students and the evaluation of their previous work are inextricably linked to their name and henceforth establish an implicit bias in future evaluation.

This idea that students who are thought of more highly by instructors receive better grades was further explored and supported in a 2013 study published in the journal Teaching of Psychology. The study reported finding strong experimental evidence of a halo effect, meaning that prior work submitted by a student biased future scores given.

Further, not blinding instructors can result in grading being skewed by other criteria. This can range from whether a student is always on time to whether a student is the first to raise their hand to participate.

There are other metrics that instructors can use to evaluate these things if they choose, but the grade on an assignment is not one of them.

This bias also extends to teachers who may knowingly or unknowingly assume a student who chimes in more has good things to say in their paper and give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to gaps in content. Meanwhile, that same instructor may penalize other students for similar infractions without even realizing it. Other aspects of your performance should not bear an outcome on the work you submitted, and blind grading helps mitigate the effects of this problem.

Those who oppose blind grading argue that removing the identity from the work may not allow for teachers to track student progress and provide them with individualized feedback. These arguments, centered around important educational principles, do not necessarily detract from instituting blind grading.

For example, tracking a student’s progress is still very much possible after assigning their grade when educators can unblind the work and provide targeted feedback. In fact, blind grading may even be more conducive to students’ progress, as it allows each of their works to be graded independently of the others and in this way will keep students from becoming complacent.

Additionally, it’s important to note that universal blind grading is not possible in every setting and every classroom, but teachers should make room for it whenever possible and appropriate.

When thinking about the implicit biases that may arise from student interaction with instructors, an important consideration is the extent to which this can even occur, especially in larger classes or lecture halls. In smaller classrooms, like those of electives, writing courses or honors programs, the room for bias is much larger as a teacher is likely to know most, if not all, of their students.

This fact does not mean, however, that the efficacy of blind grading is null in other larger settings. For example, professors can still get to know and hold impressions of a portion of students in large classes, so the halo effect still holds true.

Furthermore, in other collegiate courses where teaching assistants are used to grade coursework, blind grading can preserve fairness, as it is well known that some TAs are undergraduates who frequently know the students whose work they’re grading.

Again, it’s important to stress that the biases at work in these scenarios do not have to occur with any sort of intent. This means that while most educators, TAs and other evaluators have fairness in mind, the human condition and subconscious prevents this from being the case in practice 100 percent of the time.

As far as implementation goes, the path to blind grading is not a difficult one. Popular platforms that teachers and students already use, like TurnItIn, allow for anonymous marking that hides all identifiable student information from the instructor’s view. In less technological settings, teachers can simply instruct students to utilize their school-issued ID as an alternative to their name.

Regardless of the method used, blind grading is beneficial to both educators and students seeking a method of fair evaluation. Teachers and school administrators should strongly consider using the practice where possible in order to eliminate knowing and implicit bias from the classroom.

Opinion columnist Ryan Nowrouzi is a biomedical sciences junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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