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Editorial: Implement blind grading

Recently, in response to criticism about unfair grading, some courses have implemented a system of blind grading for problem sets and papers. In these courses, students are either required to submit a copy of their paper without a name in addition to a copy with a name or are assigned a number to write in place of a name. In both systems, the professor or preceptor grades the nameless papers and then matches grades to students.  While this policy may be unrealistic for some courses such as seminars and independent work, the Editorial Board supports this trend and encourages more University departments and classes to adopt this policy.

Proponents of blind grading note that a variety of factors can influence professors and preceptors to give grades that might not reflect the quality of the paper. In the rush to grade papers quickly, the reputation of the student, the quality of past work or biases about minority groups can act subconsciously to impact grades. When this effect is combined with Princeton’s grade deflation policy, it can be unfairly difficult for some students to do well in their classes. For example, the philosophy department has recently considered adopting this policy in response to research that showed that female students were getting consistently lower grades in philosophy courses.  The Board thinks that this is a positive step towards ending these problems.

We also believe that this step reflects our evolving understanding of how discrimination works. Whether it is discrimination in favor of established students who have reputations for doing well or discrimination against certain minority groups, a growing body of work shows that many forms of discrimination often act subconsciously. While much progress has been made at ending deliberate and overt discrimination, there is still a lot of work to do to end the unfairness that subconscious bias can create. Professors and preceptors cannot end behaviors of which they might not be aware. By encouraging more blind grading, the Board thinks one of the main ways unfairness can manifest itself on campus can be eliminated.

We do realize that there would be limitations to this policy, which will still not eliminate biases against particular ideas (especially controversial ones in politics or philosophy) or certain approaches to a topic. This policy would also not be effective in smaller classes in which students frequently talk about their papers with the professor or in seminars that require students to produce original research papers. The Board realizes that interaction with professors is an essential part of the process of producing original work and that it would be difficult to implement a blind policy without compromising a critical part of the learning process.  Given this, we think that this policy would only apply to larger classes in which every student writes on a fixed set of topics. In these classes, the similarity of the topics would allow students to discuss their ideas with a professor or preceptor without compromising the system. Furthermore, even though we recognize a perfectly anonymous system is difficult, we still think that a system that makes some progress in disassociating the quality of students’ work from other parts of their identities would be a step in the right direction.

There is not one policy that will end unfairness at Princeton. Many aspects of University life serve to reinforce existing advantages and make it difficult for certain students to advance. Whether it is discrimination based on identity or simply favoring more familiar students, unfairness exists both in the classroom and outside of it. However, the Board thinks that implementing this policy would help narrow advantages in course grades.  Every student deserves to have their work evaluated fairly, and this policy would aid in reaching that goal.

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