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Anonymous marking across the board

Ashley Chegwyn reports

University-of-Sydney

The Academic Standards and Policy Committee have expressed support for a proposed anonymous marking policy during their meeting last Wednesday that would involve replacing students’ names with student numbers on assessments, where feasible.

“There was broad-ranging discussion and the meeting expressed support for the principle of anonymous marking where it aligns with good teaching,” said Director of Education Strategy, Associate Professor Peter McCallum.

“It was recognised that feedback is also valuable and that there are some situations where providing feedback will effectively prevent the marking being anonymous. In other situations there are ways of managing good feedback and preserving anonymity.”

Drafting of the policy began late last year after an initial meet- ing of Committee and Board members, which was attended by Dean Vice-Chancellor (Registrar) Professor Tyrone Carlin, Dean Vice-Chancellor of Education Philippa Pattinson, Chair of Academic Board Tony Masters, and McCallum.

“Peter McCallum kindly undertook to incorporate the required drafting as part of ongoing work on a set of procedures to accompany the new Learning and Teaching Policy approved by Academic Board late last year,” said Pattinson. “When ready, the relevant drafts will go to the Academic Board for approval.”

The push for anonymous marking began after members of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), Subeta Vimalarajah and Anna Hush, released a report containing overseas research that highlighted the potential for bias when assessments are labelled with students’ names.

Vimalarajah said she was inspired to push for the policy after her mother jokingly suggested she change her name to improve her grades.

“We’d been talking about the studies showing that Asian sounding applicants are less successful when they apply for jobs. I entertained the idea and then thought we shouldn’t have to change our names, we might as well change the system.”

“Research shows that we are all subject to implicit bias, and that this bias is very difficult to consciously correct,” said Hush.

“This doesn’t mean that overt discrimination is occurring, but when markers have to evaluate large quantities of work in a very short timeframe, implicit stereotypes tend to come into play.”

The SRC’s report included data from a United Kingdom OFSTED study, which found students with African or Asian names received 12 per cent lower marks in institutions without anonymous marking. Similarly, a study conducted by the University of Wales found the number of women achieving firsts (the equivalent of a High Distinction) increased by 13 per cent when an anonymous marking policy was implemented.

While there is no set date for when the policy will be introduced if approved by the Board, members are hoping it will be implemented quickly, to reduce the risk of further bias.

“Work on the relevant procedures is being undertaken this semester,” said Pattinson.

“It is unlikely to be in place for the next examination period, but some aspects may be in place by the Semester 2 examination period. We would certainly hope to have this in place by Semester 1, 2017.”