As the Office of the Dean of the College states, “Princeton University is committed to fairness and transparency in assessment of students’ work and grading practices.” With this admirable goal in mind, the Board believes that the University could take more steps to ensure fairness in grading student work and to improve the overall academic experience. First, the Board urges the University to adopt anonymized grading for exams, while maintaining regular grading practices for papers and written work. Second, we recommend that professors and preceptors utilize multiple criteria, in addition to talking in precept, to assess participation for students less inclined to speak up.
The Board recommends that anonymous grading be implemented for in-class and take-home exams in order to help ensure fairer grading. Currently, in courses where preceptors and professors know whose tests they are grading, knowledge of a student’s identity could unfairly influence grading. For example, while grading an in-class essay exam for a humanities course, a grader may be unduly critical of a student’s exam knowing that the student performed poorly on a past exam or has performed poorly in precept — even if the student’s knowledge or performance has since improved. To eliminate this bias, courses could simply assign each student a randomly generated code with which to label his or her exam or ask that students write their names on the back of test booklets. These measures would also take steps to address the damaging effects of other potential forms of implicit bias concerning, for example, gender, race or nationality. Implementing anonymous grading for exams is a simple and effective step toward increasing fairness.
However, we do not recommend anonymous grading for papers. It is true that knowledge of a student could influence the grade a professor or preceptor assigns to that student’s written work. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing and could provide potential benefits for students. For one, many courses grade papers based on student growth and improvement in writing. With anonymous grading in place, it becomes more difficult for graders to measure student growth and reward those students who have made an effort to improve. Furthermore, graders are likely to reward students who seek advice on their papers and are willing to attend office hours to discuss their ideas. Knowing this, students have more incentives to be engaged in the class since that engagement could be rewarded with a higher grade. For these reasons, we advise that anonymous grading be restricted to exams.
Lastly, the Board suggests that, in addition to verbal participation, professors and preceptors provide different means of assessment suited for students with varied skillsets. Currently, precept participation grades are mostly determined by the quality and consistency with which students speak up in precept. However, this singular mode of assessment favors students with strong verbal skills and is detrimental to students who, despite having a command of the material, have more difficulty speaking up. To more holistically assess students in precept, the Board suggests providing more written means for students to participate, such as asking students to submit discussion questions or reading responses on Blackboard before each precept. This would allow students to demonstrate knowledge through writing, and students, having prepared their own questions and having read other students’ questions, would feel more confident verbally participating in precept. Furthermore, preceptors could assign each student a week to give an oral presentation at the beginning of precept, allowing their demonstrated preparation for precept to be accounted for in the precept participation grade.
In sum, there are clear steps that can be taken to anonymize the grading process and improve grading procedures. The members of the Board ask that the University implement the measures we have outlined to improve students’ academic experience and to ensure fairness in grading.
Jeffrey Leibenhaut ’16 and Carolyn Liziewski ’18 abstained from the writing of this editorial.
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-in-Chief.