grading anonymously

I require my students to leave their names off the front of their essays because I do not want to associate the person with the essay when I grade. Instead they just provide me with their social security number. In this way I hope to be unaffected by the characteristics of a student that are extraneous to the writing. If they’ve made many smart comments in class, for example, I don’t want to automatically give them the benefit of the doubt if a written paragraph is unclear. If they’ve missed several classes, I don’t want to feel like I should dock points on an essay as a response.

I realize by writing the above I run the risk of making myself sound like a capricious grader. I’m not. But I’d like to reduce the distractions running through my head as I’m making comments in the margins and considering the quality of the writing. I’ve not had a problem with my grading. I’ve been teaching since 1993, and I can count on one hand the number of times a student has come to me to complain about a grade on a paper. (Hmm. Maybe that makes me sound like an easy grader.) However, I’ve adopted the anonymous grading policy recently, and it seems to work pretty well.

When they don’t get the grade they think they deserve, students often get quite upset, and I can understand why. Writing is a pretty personal act, and getting a negative reaction to your writing can feel like a personal attack. This is the logic behind the exclamation, “But I’m not a C student!” I would argue that there’s no such thing as a C, or B, or A student. This is an essentialist argument, as if grades are a response to some quality inherent in the individual that magically makes itself apparent in the student’s work. But I’m not grading students; I’m grading assignments. The anonymity assures this.

In a subsequent entry I’ll address some of the potential drawbacks of this policy.

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3 thoughts on “grading anonymously

  1. “But I’m not grading students; I’m grading assignments.”
    To follow up on this: I try to direct my comments to the paper, not the person. For example, I’ll write, “This paper is strongest when it…” rather than “You’ve done a good job of …” or “The second body paragraph lacks coherence” rather than “You lose coherence in the second body paragraph.”
    Again, I have some reservations about what might come across as fairly impersonal commentary.

  2. I try to direct comments toward the paper, too. That being said, I don’t grade anonymously.
    Sometimes, I do find it valuable to know what a student has done on a previous paper in order to contextualize my comments or to better understand if a writer has improved considerably over an earlier paper.
    Just out of curiosity: what about occasions when you’ve talked to a student about his/her paper? How do you avoid remembering previous discussions of a paper?

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