Anonymous Grading: Why and How

I’m looking for information on anonymous grading, both the reasons to do it and the best way to go about it (assume electronic grading). Suppose your department was considering a policy of requiring anonymous evaluation of undergraduate student work, what arguments would you use in favour? What are the best sources for information? And also, how would you suggest it be implemented?

Help and advice from the lovely community of feminist philosophers appreciated.

8 thoughts on “Anonymous Grading: Why and How

  1. I think the literature is mixed (see this discussion: but also compare pr ). I’ve done anonymous marking for forever whenever I can, and I think it’s generally useful, if only because it tends to make arguments about favortism or bias shorter. I do think *starting* anonymously (or only getting the name much later) is helpful in reducing framing bias, but who knows!

    Suprising to me (as reported e.g., in ) is that anonymous grading was felt to introduce a distance between the instructor and student. I can see the problem with factoring in improvement (though anonymity need not including unawareness of past performance), but I’m not so clear why it’s hard to identify students who need extra help. (I typically look at “who got what” *after* marking.)

  2. I’ve successfully argued for anonymity using the arguments in my “Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Women in Philosophy”, available at the right-hand side of this page:

    The National Union of Students (UK) has a campaign on the topic:

    At Sheffield, all essays are submitted to the departmental office, which takes care of de-anonymising, etc. But individual teachers can do it very easily as well: Have students put their name only on the title page. When you sit down to mark, the first thing you do is flip all the title pages to the back, without really looking. Then do not look at the title pages until you’re done grading.

  3. Hi Anonymous,

    When I accepted paper based essays, I had the students put their name on the back of the last page. Saves a sheet, and is much less unwieldy when marking (for me).

    The tricky bit is getting them all to do it properly!

  4. I teach in a women’s college, Alverno College in Milwaukee, in a non-graded curriculum where students receive written and oral feedback on learning outcomes for their work in courses and programs. Utopian, I know, but I assure you it improves the relationship between students and teachers and the learning environment when students are not motivated by grades. But if you must grade, and you want to read a couple of articles on grading (in the US, not UK context) Daryl Close and John Immerwahr have articles in the last few years in the journal Teaching Philosophy.

  5. I grade anonymously for two reasons:

    (1) to reduce any biases that might affect my grading. (I even change sans serif fonts into serif fonts because academic writing in sans serif looks almost as goofy to me as writing in all caps.)

    (2) to block accusations that my grading is biased. Students from science and math often come to philosophy classes feeling certain that there’s no objective basis for grading their essays. They’re less likely to attribute bad grades to favoritism or something worse if they know that I’m making an effort to screen those things off. (I usually mention that I grade anonymously by choice, that this isn’t a departmental policy.) As soon as I started grading anonymously my student evaluations got much better, and I think there’s at least some causal link.

    Implementation: I ask students to use their student ID numbers instead of names on their papers. My grading spreadsheet for papers has ID numbers instead of names, so there’s no difficulty in taking improvement into account. (I can see at a glance what their previous grades were.) At the end of the semester I receive a sheet that allows me to match up students with ID numbers. The anonymity usually isn’t perfect because I encourage students to meet with me to talk about their ideas and early drafts, but it still makes a difference.

  6. I ask my students to identify their work primarily or exclusively by their student numbers, asking them either not to use their names at all, or to put them only on the back of the last page. I’ve found this to be an effective way to grade blind, without any institutional procedures governing it.

  7. Here’s a tidbit from my own experience with anonymous grading, fwiw.

    When I first started implementing anonymous grading, students said that it made their feedback feel “less personal”. I’m guessing this is because comments on essays no longer contained things like “nice improvement from last time!” or “Good job of incorporating the issues we talking about in office hours”. To help with this, I now have an extra set of office hours the week after they get their essays back. I’ve always had these office hours, but I now *label* them “essay feedback week”. The students can come in and get these personal kinds of comments, talk over any questions they have about their grades, etc. Once I started labelling these little office discussions as “essay feedback” and telling them that this meant they’d have an “anonymous feedback” component and a “non-anonymous feedback” component to the comments on their essay – but that all *grading* would be anonymous – they started to report that they really liked anonymous grading. Go figure.

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