Grading With Integrity

Evaluation is a fundamental part of education. At the beginning of each semester, professors, instructors, and graduate teaching assistants lay out the objectives for each course as well as the assignments and class activities that will lead to achieving those objectives. Grading scales and final grades are meant to determine how well each student meets the course objectives. Because grades and grading are so common across pre- and post-secondary education, typically little thought is given to grading integrity.

In Is Grade Integrity a Fairness Issue? Jane Robbins discusses some of the reasons for and the consequences of grade inflation and lapses in grading integrity. There are a number of pressures to allow grade inflation. Instructors who give good grades receive good student reviews. A high GPA across the student body attracts top students to your institution, because people connect a high GPA with a bright student body. High grades can motivate students to continue with their degrees, when they might have quit due to poor grades. High grades can also help students secure better jobs post-graduation. The benefits to students, instructors, and institutions may seem compelling, but do they outweigh the consequences?

Robbins poses the question, “If we lower the bar so that our students are in a more competitive position, does that make it unfair to those who earned the higher grades, or who went to schools that maintain higher standards?” Maintaining integrity in grading is similar to maintaining academic integrity. For example, future employers and graduate admission committees rely on instructors to give accurate grades so they can make informed decisions when hiring or admitting potential candidates, just as researchers rely on colleagues to accurately report research results. Over time, even small breaches in this trust can damage reputations and relationships.

Grading integrity extends to relationships with students as well. D. Royce Sadler posed four propositions that relate to the fairness in student grading. These propositions are helpful for graduate teaching assistants and graders:

  • Students deserve to be graded according to quality and not in comparison to the work of other students (past and present).
  • Students deserve to understand how they will be graded. Sadler states, “There should be no surprises.”
  • Students deserve to be graded on a scale standard across the institution. Courses that are graded with excessive leniency or difficulty make it difficult for students to manage grading expectations across courses.
  • Students deserve a grade that will maintain value over time across the higher education systems.

Some of these propositions may seem challenging to take into account for every student. For example, how does an instructor know what grades will maintain value over time and across higher education systems? Experience will help you get a better feel for grading consistency across students and your institution.

In the meantime, there are simple things you can do to make sure students are graded for the quality of the assignment at hand. Ask students to write their name on the last page of their paper or use their NUID. This will help you avoid any unintentional bias in your grading. Help students understand how assignments will be graded by creating consistent and thorough grading rubrics. The Office of Graduate Studies provides teaching tools designed to help graduate teaching assistants create clear course objectives and rubrics.

References:

Robbins, J. “Is Grade Integrity a Fairness Issue?” Inside Higher Ed. 2012. http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/sounding-board/grade-integrity-fairness-issue.

Sadler, D.R. “Grade integrity and the representation of academic achievement.” Studies in Higher Education 34 no. 7, (2009): 807-826.