Marked problems 1

July 26, 2002

As a participant in the essay-marking study by Becky Francis, Barbara Read and Jocelyn Robson (Letters, THES , July 19), I do not agree that the data justify their concern that a "laissez-faire approach to marking may allow individual constructions of identity to affect negatively the grades".

As an experimental psychologist, I was surprised to be asked to mark essays on the "psychological contract", a topic drawn from a sub-domain of occupational psychology into which reason and method have yet to intrude.

In the article about their research (Front page, THES , June 28), the authors note that markers seemed to give undue emphasis to verbal fluency. I tend to focus on empirical evidence and theoretical understanding when I mark my students' essays. The essays I marked for the study contained no coherent theory and almost nothing I would regard as evidence. As all of the essays covered much the same material, I did not penalise students for shortcomings of the topic or reading list. This left little more than the students' style to comment on. Other markers with different expertise may well have reacted differently.

Most academic departments publish criteria for essayists and markers. Blind double-marking using shared criteria in my own department usually produces correlations of +0.8 and above. In the study, markers were drawn from departments with quite different marking criteria. The fact that large differences were observed implies neither that university assessment is biased nor that students are being treated unfairly. Perhaps we should be more concerned with research than with marking standards.

Roger Lindsay
Department of psychology
Oxford Brookes University

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