Does blind mark­ing re­ally help to close achieve­ment gap?

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - holly.else@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

The anony­mous mark­ing of exam scripts has little im­pact on clos­ing the achieve­ment gap be­tween stu­dents of dif­fer­ent gen­ders and eth­nic­i­ties, new re­search sug­gests.

Many uni­ver­si­ties have in­tro­duced blind mark­ing in re­cent years in re­sponse to the un­der­per­for­mance of un­der­grad­u­ates from eth­nic mi­nori­ties and male learn­ers in as­sess­ment. Some re­searchers have sug­gested that lec­tur­ers may un­wit­tingly rate stu­dents of sim­i­lar gen­der or eth­nic­ity higher than those who are dif­fer­ent from them.

But an anal­y­sis of nearly 32,000 stu­dent records span­ning a 12­year pe­riod at one UK higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion raises ques­tions over the value of anony­mous mark­ing, while also sug­gest­ing that the achieve­ment gaps be­tween dif­fer­ent types of stu­dents are not as large in re­al­ity as many as­sume.

Danny Hin­ton, lec­turer in psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Wolver­hamp­ton, and Helen Hig­son, deputy vice­chan­cel­lor of As­ton Univer­sity, looked at the mean per­for­mance of stu­dents in ex­ams and course­work, which can be marked with­out know­ing the iden­tity of the learner, and oral as­sess­ments, which are im­pos­si­ble to mark blindly, across two groups. In the first group were stu­dents as­sessed be­fore the in­sti­tu­tion in­tro­duced anony­mous mark­ing; in the sec­ond were stu­dents as­sessed after its in­tro­duc­tion.

While the in­tro­duc­tion of blind mark­ing was as­so­ci­ated with re­duc­tions in the at­tain­ment gaps be­tween some groups of stu­dents, these tended to be very small, be­tween 0.6 and 1.5 per cent.

How­ever, the at­tain­ment gap be­tween white and Asian stu­dents in course­work widened fol­low­ing

the in­tro­duc­tion of anony­mous mark­ing, by 0.3 per cent.

Mean­while, the gaps in per­for­mance be­tween dif­fer­ent types of stu­dents in oral ex­am­i­na­tions also nar­rowed over the same pe­riod, which could not be at­trib­uted to anony­mous as­sess­ment.

Writ­ing in Plos One, Dr Hin­ton and Pro­fes­sor Hig­son say that their find­ings sug­gest that anony­mous mark­ing has “done little to elim­i­nate be­tween-group mean per­for­mance dif­fer­ences”.

“Eth­nic, gen­der and so­cio-en­vi­ron­men­tal dif­fer­ences seem to be per­va­sive in academia, even after in­ter­ven­tions aimed to re­duce them,” they write.

Speak­ing to Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, Dr Hin­ton said that the re­sults could also re­flect the pos­si­bil­ity that the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion at the in­sti­tu­tion has be­come more able over time, or the in­tro­duc­tion of the anony­mous mark­ing mak­ing staff more aware of un­con­scious bias in all their as­sess­ments.

“What we could be see­ing here is that stu­dents are aware that their univer­sity is com­mit­ted to fair treat­ment of all stu­dents and that is mak­ing them hap­pier, and hap­pier stu­dents are do­ing bet­ter,” Dr Hin­ton said.

Dr Hin­ton added that the data sug­gest that the dif­fer­ences in per­for­mance be­tween di­verse stu­dent groups are not as large as some may think.

The most strik­ing dif­fer­ence in per­for­mance was be­tween the exam- ina­tion marks of white and black stu­dents. “That was only about 5 per cent, which is po­ten­tially im­por­tant but not as bad as it could be,” he said.

The study sug­gests that blind mark­ing does bring ben­e­fits, so uni­ver­si­ties should not aban­don the prac­tice, Dr Hin­ton said.

But those con­sid­er­ing in­tro­duc­ing it should wait for more ev­i­dence be­fore putting sys­tems in place be­cause there could be other more cost-ef­fec­tive ways of re­duc­ing per­for­mance gaps be­tween stu­dent groups, he added.

Steady blind mark­ing brings ben­e­fits, a study sug­gests, but there may be other more cost-ef­fec­tive ways of re­duc­ing per­for­mance gaps be­tween stu­dent groups

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