Instructors can bring biases, both unconscious and conscious, into the grading process through their knowledge of students’ previous scores, race/ethnicity, work ethic, and other attributes (Malouff, 2008; Malouff et al., 2013). These biases can potentially lead the instructor to unequal grading habits based only partially on performance. To reduce the impacts of such biases, instructors can implement blind grading, where student work is stripped of identifiers prior to the review process.
Blind grading has advantages and disadvantages. In addition to minimizing instructor bias, blind grading can improve student belief in the accuracy of assessment scores when they are made aware of the practice. However, blind grading can also disable instructors from tracking individual student progress on assignments and thereby noting improvements. Further, handwritten assignments can be difficult to make truly anonymous. With these elements in mind, blind grading can still assure students that instructor bias has been minimized, and encourage students to let their work speak for itself.
Examples and Recommendations
There are many approaches to blind grading. Ultimately, the instructor should choose the method that is most feasible given the context of the course and assignment:
- Cover Student Names - In this approach, the instructor covers up student names prior to grading and shuffles assignments in order to minimize identifying students. For example: the instructor might 1) have students write their names on the first page and leave the remainder of the page blank, 2) fold over the page to cover up names prior to grading, and 3) place graded exams face down after completing.
- Use Student Personal Identification Numbers - Students can be given a personal identification number. Instead of their name, they can write this number on their assessment or other work. Instructors may also consider periodically providing students with new ID numbers if they become recognizable. Instructors should also think about additional ways to bolster their command of student names, if they use assignments to memorize and get to know students.
- Have Students Write Names on the Back of Last Page - In the case of an exam, quiz or written work, students can be told to write their names on the back of the last page instead of the front page. With this method, the instructor does not see student names until the grading process is finished.
- Encourage Students to Type Assignments Over Writing in Longhand - Handwriting can be identifiable, and thus, where appropriate, instructors can encourage particular assignments to be typed. This approach can be coupled with the use of personal identification numbers, or having students include their names at the end or front of the assessment.
- Grade the Same Section or Question for all Students at the Same Time - In the case of grading exams, quizzes, or other worksheets, an instructor can grade one section or question for all students at the same time. This can minimize the influence of between-student biases on scoring if the name is covered. This approach is also a best practice for ensuring reliability of test scores, as it allows graders to focus on the same criteria and content over the same period of time for all students.
- Use Anonymous Canvas Grading - The Yale learning management system Canvas enables blind grading. Instructors can select the gearbox in the upper right in Gradebook and choose “Hide Student Names” (note that individual users can toggle this option through their own dashboards).
Malouff, J.M., Emmerton, A.J., Schutte, N.S. (2013). The Risk of Halo Bias as a Reason to Keep Students Anonymous During Grading. Teaching of Psychology, 40(3): 233-237.
Malouff, J. (2008). Bias in Grading. College Teaching, 56 (3): 192-191.