Is Anonymous Grading Really Better?

A philosophy professor has written in with some questions about anonymous or “blind” grading, in which the identity of the student whose work is being assessed is not known to the grader. The majority opinion in philosophy appears to be that there are strong moral reasons in support of anonymous grading. Yet, there are questions about evidence for it, as well as about balancing its advantages and disadvantages:

1) I wonder what the state of research is on the potential benefits of anonymous grading. I’ve poked around, and what I’ve found (not much) doesn’t clearly support the practice, so I’m wondering what we really know. The general literature on implicit bias is suggestive for the grading context, and that seems to be what everyone goes on. 

2) There are disadvantages of anonymous grading, such as when a strong idea in a paper may have come from the professor in office hours. How should you grade that paper if you don’t know? Or what about a strong line of argument that is not clearly expressed, but recoverable by the teacher who spoke with the student about the ideas before the paper was written? Etc. The fact that anonymous grading reduces the possibility of bias isn’t enough to say whether that benefit outweighs these and other costs. Even assuming (despite the crisis of replicability) some implicit bias creeps in without anonymous grading, do we know whether academics would thereby favor men, and whites? Or might they unconsciously favor women, and blacks for ideological reasons? Or might these wash? Who knows? And in any case, how strong is the effect? If it’s small are we sure the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of anonymous grading?


red pens

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