A game of guess who: Should Augustana adopt anonymous testing?

Yes, past impressions impact future judgements




College classes often contain several types of students. You have the teacher, the class clown, the try-hard, the occasional hand-raiser, the quiet observer and the no-show. 

As students, we have a habit of clumping students together based on their perceived effort in class. If we do it as students, it stands to reason the teacher does too, which begs the question: how does this affect grading?

In an ideal world, grading would be impartial, and teachers would evaluate student’s submitted work without being influenced by assumptions based on previous assignments. However, being humans, teachers are not free from the tendency to form impressions.

To counter this, many schools and universities across the nation have adopted ‘anonymous grading,’ sometimes referred to as ‘blind grading.’ The method involves removing names from essays as a way to eliminate bias on the part of the professor. 

Anonymous grading functions best with assignments where presentation, participation and student-teacher collaboration are not factors. 

Let’s take the “class clown,” the joker of the class who earns such a reputation from both classmates and teacher alike. The teacher has learned through the course of the semester not to take the class clown seriously. 

Realizing his precarious seat between two grades at the end of the semester, the class clown studies hard and performs well on the exam. However, the professor picks up the exam to grade it, sees the student’s name printed at the top, but also unconsciously sees ‘class clown’ written next to it. 

In effect, the teacher’s view of the student may affect how they read the essay.

Next, let’s take the ‘try-hard’ who participates in class, volunteers answers and turns in exemplary work throughout the course of the semester. He has become known by reputation to both classmates and teacher alike as what we call ‘a good student.’ 

Near the end of the semester, the student sees his grades are good and slacks off on the final essay. The teacher picks up his essay, reads the name of the student but inadvertently sees ‘try-hard’ written next to it. 

In both cases, the teacher, before even seeing the students work, is given a cue as to what to expect. Expectations are influential, and although professors may believe they are grading objectively, expectations set the tone for how they perceive the essay will be. 

Expecting either another slipshod submission or policed piece, the teacher may be more likely to give the class-clown a lower grade than what he or she merited or give the serious student a higher grade than what he or she merited. 

It also may, if the teacher is aware of his or her own biases towards particular students, cause them to overcompensate, still producing an unfair grade.

When students don’t receive the recognition they deserve or the constructive criticism they need, their growth is hindered. And, in turn, the student remains stuck in a stereotype the teacher’s expectations reinforce. 

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