Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Grading is biased (by anon)

So is grading fair?  Profs like to assume that their grading is fair but is it?

This report suggest that grading is biased and related to the ideology or worldview of the professor.  The implication of this study is that you are better off taking a class with a Democratic prof.  I wonder how a Marxist would fit in with this study, perhaps he or she would pass everyone.  The study appears to indicate that black students get screwed no matter who is teaching the class. However, it could mean that black students as a cohort are among the least prepared students in academia.

New York Times blog:

It makes sense that professors with contrasting political ideologies might approach their lives in different ways.
But whether a professor leans left or right, or votes Democrat or Republican, shouldn't affect a student's grade in Chemistry 101 or an upper-level philosophy course.

That's not the case according to a recent study by two economists titled "Partisan Grading." The paper indicates that, yes, Democratic and Republican professors do appear to grade in different ways.
The report by Cornell University's Talia Bar and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Asaf Zussman begins by stating: "This paper studies the following question: Do professors grade students based solely on objective measures of abilities or is grading affected by some exogenous preferences professors bring with them? More specifically, we explore how the grading outcomes of students are associated with the political orientation of their professors."
Their analysis is based on a "unique dataset of grades" awarded from 2000 to 2004 at an unnamed "elite" university in the United States. The professors' political affiliation was taken from voter registration records.
The analysis provides two main findings.

First, the evidence suggests that relative to their Democratic colleagues, Republican professors "are associated with a less egalitarian distribution of grades." The report shows how Democratic professors are more likely to assign middle-of-the-road grades, while Republicans tend to award more very high and very low marks. (See Figure 2 on Page 23 of the report for a graphic representation of this.)

The report states that "the share of the lowest grades (F, D-minus, D, D-plus, and C-minus) out of the total is 6.2 percent in courses taught by Republican professors and only 4.0 percent in courses taught by Democratic professors; the share of the highest grade (A-plus) out the total is 8.0 percent in courses taught by Republican professors and only 3.5 percent in courses taught by Democratic professors."
Both differences, the report states, are "highly statistically significant."

The study also indicates Republicans, compared to their Democratic colleagues, "assign lower grades to black students relative to white ones." No matter who was teaching the course, black students received lower grades, on average, than did white students. But in classes led by Democratic professors, the difference between whites and blacks was 0.27 of a grade-point average; in courses taught by Republicans, the gap was 0.42.
What this all means, exactly, isn't clear. The report states it wasn't possible to conclude which professors' grades best reflected actual student performance — therefore the authors weren't able, for example, to determine "to what extent Democratic professors ‘discriminate' in favor of black students or Republican professors ‘discriminate' against them."

The analysis showed little to no association between a professor's political leanings and how Hispanic or female students are graded.

The paper concludes with the following paragraph: "Professors control the allocation of grades which serve as the primary currency of academia. Our results suggest that the allocation of grades is associated with the worldview or ideology of professors. This finding may inform the public debate on potential reforms to university grading practices. To the extent that the application of objective standards is an important university goal, policy makers should consider limiting the discretion professors enjoy when it comes to grading and making it more difficult for them to use student characteristics as factors in the grading process."

This New York Times blog indicates the "Partisan Grading" report is to be published by The American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

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