Do Professors Like Anonymous Grading?
No one likes grading (well, . . . almost no one). I’m still a new kid on the block, but I’ve collected enough data points (or, more accurately, I’ve heard enough bellyaching) in my short time in the neighborhood to feel fairly confident in that assertion.
However, if grading must be done, what is the best approach? My impression is that while my students are generally big fans of anonymous assessment, my colleagues at Drexel and elsewhere may not be.
Part of this phenomenon has to do with the realization by many legal academics that blind grading can result in some “unfortunate” outcomes. We have all had the student that we think is bound for great things do poorly on our exam and the deadbeat student get a B+ (or even an A-). That hurts given that potential employers (law firms, judges, and others) use grades as a primary screening tool when deciding between candidates.
That said, I think my discomfort comes from a slightly different place: while acknowledging the strong counters in literary theory and elsewhere, I tend to believe that texts ought not to be separated from their authors. It is authors as much as words that mark our paths through emails, essays, articles, short stories, and exams.
Certainly, knowing the identity of the author can cause distortions in meaning, but so can not knowing the identity of the author.
What’s so fair about denying a student the right to shape the meaning of her words on an exam? And is it true that when there is only a student ID number involved we, the exam graders, forget about authors altogether . . . or is that we make guesses and implicit assumptions about identities and then allow the texts to be indelibly stamped by our imagined authors?
If anything, objectivity and unbiased assessment is far more critical in the legal world outside the classroom (lives, liberties, and billions of dollars are often at stake) and yet anonymous authorship of texts is the exception. I do not mean to suggest that the situations are entirely parallel but it is worth considering the fact that lawyers almost always sign their names to work they submit for assessment, whether it is a motion or amicus brief or a memo to a client. Knowing the identity of the author is important enough to outweigh other concerns.
Is this true with respect to law school exams? I’m not sure, but I do know that approaches like adding a participation component to the final grade don’t really address the problem (although they may go some distance to avoiding the sting of giving a student who has proven himself to be incompetent throughout the semester a B+).