Assessing anonymous marks

March 26, 1999

In its campaign for anonymous marking ("Pride and prejudice", THES, March 19), the National Union of Students is using a bludgeon to attack what may be the wrong target and thus perhaps threatening important pedagogic principles.

It is not clear that a link has been established between the anonymity of candidates in the assessment process and results that appear to betray various kinds of bias. There needs to be more thought about the criteria upon which judgements are based.

It would also seem useful to scan more intensively the different kinds of quality control exercised on marking procedures. The independent, blind double marking of scripts seems to be under threat, and one might feel that systems of "moderation" are less secure in spotting the kinds of bias that might lead to discriminatory results.

But it is the wish to have all work anonymised, including assessed essays, that seems the most threatening. Essay writing is part of the educational nurturing of the individual's growth in understanding and expression, and one wants to tailor both tasks and comments on an essay to the individual student.

This campaign reflects the fact that we live in a culture of mistrust, in which cumbersome procedures must be entertained to "protect" academics and their students from the threat of litigation or a charge of bias. It seems also to mark the way in which the "result" is more important than the process.

Before capitulating to the fashionable tide, I would need to be much more confident that anonymous marking actually would attack the important concerns that the NUS campaign highlights.

David Lindley Thorner, Leeds

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