Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Grading Effectively and Fairly

Contributed by: Stacy Wittstock
Issues with Grading
  • Consistency is often an issue, especially when grading a lot for large classes
    • This can be individual consistency, across single tests or between students
    • It can also include consistency within teams
  • Grade inflation is also a concern, as is being overly critical in your grading
  • Grade distributions can also be a concern

Subjectivity vs. Objectivity in Grading
  • It’s impossible to exactly quantify a student’s performance over a semester
  • Also, grades subjective by nature
  • They are partly about meeting instructor expectations of how something should be written
  • They are influenced by factors that often aren’t relevant, such as handwriting legibility and ink color (Klein & Taub, 2005; Greifeneder et al., 2010)
    • They are influenced by circumstances outside the control of student and instructor
      • Comparison between students’ work
        • Contrast/order effects (Spear, 1997)
      • Past knowledge of the student’s work
        • “The halo effect,” where one’s personal impression of a student can impact how they grade that student (Malouff et al., 2013)
    • There is also a lot we don’t know about how bias impacts grading practice
      • The studies themselves may bias instructors to grade without bias (Malouff, 2008)
  • So, what’s the solution?
    • Blind grading is one possibility, though it eliminates the possibility of personalized feedback for students
      • Grading students’ work from a different section than the one you teach
      • No names/means to identify
      • Divide and conquer among TAs

Grading Exams
  • There are a variety of different exam types. For example,
    • Multiple Choice
    • True-False
    • Matching
    • Short Answer or Completion
    • Essays
  • Contrary to how they are often viewed, all of these question types can and often do exercise higher-order thinking skills, but what they don’t all do is exercise creativity and flexibility. For the first 3, you are usually locked into a given answer or set of answers, though there may be some room for discussing alternatives. Short answers and completion allow a little more flexibility, but usually, these are limited. What makes them “better” is that they’re simple to grade: the student either gave the correct answer, or they gave the wrong answer. Essays allow that creativity and flexibility, but they usually are not simple to grade, partially as a result of that same issue.

Responding to Student Writing
  • One instinct when commenting on student writing is to focus on grammar or mechanics.
    • Not only does this take a lot of time, but do students really learn much from this type of response?
  • “Minimal marking” (Haswell, 1983)
    • Point out that there are mistakes, but push students to identify the specific mistake and figure out how to correct it themselves
  • Haswell (2006) advises that we “[eschew] the traditional cover-all-bases approach to writing response and adopting a smaller task-specific, problem-specific, and learner-specific method.”
  • “Students are avid for commentary (though they may first look at the grade), but when forced to explain their teachers' comments, they misinterpret a shocking portion of it. When forced to revise, they assiduously follow the teacher's surface emendations and disregard the deeper suggestions regarding content and argumentation. They prefer global, non-directive, and positive comments but make changes mainly to surface, directive, and negative ones” (Haswell, 2006).
    • If we know all of this, what does that mean for how we grade the final product?
    • How does this problem impact the transferability of feedback from assignment to assignment, class to class?
      • These are all considerations we need to make while thinking about how to provide feedback to students

Greifeneder, R., Alt, A., Bottenberg, K., Seele, T., Zelt, S., & Wagener, D. (2010). On Writing Legibly Processing Fluency Systematically Biases Evaluations of Handwritten Material. Social Psychological and Personality Science1(3), 230-237. doi: 10.1177/1948550610368434

Haswell, R. (1983). Minimal Marking. College English, 45(6), 600-604. Retrieved from

Haswell, Richard. (2006). The complexities of responding to student writing; or, looking for shortcuts via the road of excess. Across the Disciplines, 3. Retrieved from

Klein, J. & Taub, D. (2005). The effect of variations in handwriting and print on evaluation of student essays. Assessing Writing, 10(2), 134-148. Retrieved from

Malouff, J. (2008). Bias in grading. College Teaching56(3), 191-192. Retrieved from

Malouff, J. M., Emmerton, A. J., & Schutte, N. S. (2013). The risk of a halo bias as a reason to keep students anonymous during grading. Teaching of Psychology, 40(3), 233-237. doi: 10.1177/0098628313487425

Spear, M. (1997). The influence of contrast effects upon teachers’ marks. Educational Research39(2), 229-233. Retrieved from

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