Next to memes, Netflix, and alcohol, your typical Princeton student spends a lot of time thinking about their grades. Since we’re all so interested in our grades, we ought to be interested in the methodology of our professors and preceptors. One of the most important things in any evaluation is that the judgment be fair, and one of the ways to assure fairness in grading is to adopt blind grading. Blind grading is grading assignments without first identifying the author. This can be done using student ID numbers or by simply writing names on the very last page. Because blind grading reduces biases in grading and has several advantages over non-blind grading, it is a superior and fairer way of grading papers that professors at Princeton should consider adopting.
In a 2014 article for Verdict, Vikram Amar that blind grading has several advantages. Firstly, it helps to remove both positive and negative biases toward individuals or groups, preventing teachers and preceptors from rewarding favorites and punishing troublemakers through their grading. It is also a way to eliminate a teacher’s positive expectations of a student: As David Gooblar in an article for ChronicleVitae, doing well on the first assignment often gives a student the benefit of the doubt in future assignments. This means that a first assignment will make subpar work appear better in the future, and future grades become more lenient. This is clearly unfair. Work should be graded on its individual merits alone, not because a professor thinks a student will do better work than their peers.
A student’s conduct in precept can also warp a grader’s perception of their work. Associate professor Desmond Jagmohan of Princeton’s politics department uses blind grading, as he feels papers ought be graded solely on the quality of the paper, and not from impressions gained in precept. We have precept grades for a reason, and these should not be doubly represented in our paper grades. Jagmohan understands that for some quiet students, papers are how they express some of the very best ideas. And the benefits of blind grading are not just for students, but also for teachers: Amar argues that blind grading increases credibility and protects teachers from accusation of bias.
Gooblar outlines main potential disadvantage of blind grading. He argues that at the end of the day, he would rather be able to identify students’ work and chart their progress from assignment to assignment, give more feedback, tailor his grades to skills the students were working on, and continue office hours. But Gooblar need not worry, as essays can still be graded blind with the authors being identified after grades have been recorded, allowing bias to be reduced whilst still tracking student’s progress.
Another potential disadvantage is that small classes may make blind grading hard; after all, a teacher will likely be familiar with their students, right? Yet small classes are not necessarily a problem. Philosophy department chair Michael Smith recounts, “Though I only had a dozen or so students in my section, and though the students had talked with me about their essays before submitting them, I was constantly surprised when I discovered who had written which essay. I went from being a skeptic about the anonymization of essays to being a staunch advocate, even in very small classes.” Especially in discussion-based courses, it seems to me that the impact participation has can dramatically affect paper grades.
As Princeton strives to be more socioeconomically and racially diverse, it makes sense to seek to reduce bias wherever possible. While I do not suggest that professors and preceptors here are biased, I do suggest that we live in a world where despite our best intentions, systemic biases may creep into grading. In general, blind grading strikes me as being fair as we increase our diversity on campus, and has advantages for students here and now as well as future students.
Blind grading just seems more fair to students. As Jagmohan notes, many students put forward their best ideas not in discussions (which can strike many as uncomfortable), but their papers. Smith said, “My sense is that students have more confidence in their grades when they know that their work was graded in ignorance of their identity. When you do blind grading, all there is to react to is the quality of the ideas.”
On a pragmatic note, it is up to each professor to choose how they want to grade their classes. Princeton University is generally loath to undermine its professor’s autonomy, and no professor would undermine another’s. As Jagmohan argues, Princeton’s commitment to undergraduate teaching and mentoring cause professors to think about how fairness and justice apply to teaching and mentoring, and each professor knows the best for their own particular class. I have to agree.
Each professor must decide for themselves. I hope that professors and students will see that blind grading is a convenient way to ensure fair grading, preventing the rewarding of favorites, those who turn in good work first, and those who speak well in precept, while being fair to those who can sometimes cause trouble, took some time to find their footing in a class, and those who are quiet in precept.
Ryan Born is a junior in Philosophy from Washington, Mich. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.