Universities Turn to the Outsourcing of Grading

Since the late 1980s, there has been a spike in the number of A letter grades received by students in American universities, according to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Whereas the grade letter previously hovered around 30% of overall student grades, it is now up to 43%, making it the current most common grade given. This "inflated A" has led educators to question whether professors are truly unbiased when it comes to evaluating assignments and exams. Some universities, such as Western Governors University and the University of Central Florida, have responded to grading challenges by implementing alternative methods of evaluation. Specially, universities have begun outsourcing grading.

This move toward outside assessors as being the primary graders for homework and exams goes two ways. The first is currently being implemented by Western Governors, and involves the hiring of adjunct professors that do nothing but grade student work. Their job is not to teach or interact with the students in any way, but to solely focus on student output. Being so removed, the idea is that the graders will be completely impartial in their grading, which in turn will prevent bias and the inflated A.

The second route, being employed by the University of Central Florida, uses computers to grade essays and exams. Computers can utilize advanced artificial intelligence to evaluate work to a set standard, without being affected by fatigue and emotional bias the way professors can be. This method of computer grading has been tested against TA evaluation. The experiment cited in the Chronicle article proves that TAs and professors do not remain consistent over time in their grading, but computers do.

The outsourcing of grades comes with a lot of benefits. Not only does it remove bias and inconsistencies from evaluations, but it also allows professors to use their time to develop more detailed lessons and assignments, rather than focusing so much time and energy on the grading process. Students can feel comfortable knowing that even if they don’t believe a professor is fond of them, their grading will be handled objectively. Universities can also increase or decrease the number of outside assessors employed, depending on enrollment numbers.

There are some downsides as well. Full-time assessors are still prone to inconsistencies, based on factors such as fatigue and workload. Computers and software must be frequently collaborated in order to ensure that proper grading standards are being met. Not all students are comfortable with the idea of being graded by artificial intelligence, or as they called it in the article, "a robot."

Ultimately, however, the outsourcing of grades is an area that deserves more attention. Though these alternative methods of evaluation are still in their infancy, it is possible that with evolution, they can help redefine the grading process and solve the problem of that inflated A.

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