Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Bias: up the lead judging

I was recently reading a post on LinkedIn which talked about the marker bias that we can introduce without realising it. This is why secondary school qualification exams don't get marked by teachers who do know the students, or who come from the same schools, or same region. 

However, it is a different thing entirely when we get to tertiary education. Student work is usually marked by the course lecturer, and although every three years each course will be moderated by an external education professional, only be the lower, mid- and upper-quartiles are examined. 

When I am marking, I try to read everyone's work as if it is my star student's work (there is always one performer every semester who delivers 125%). I usually mark the star student's work first, then mark everyone else as if they were this student. This technique not only changes how I approach each piece of work, it helps my to put any "Oh, no, not this student" thoughts out of my head. It helps me to shift my preconceptions: or at least, it helps me become a little more aware of them.

The need for such tips and tricks was brought sharply into focus recently with a new colleague. I moderated some of their marking and found it (a) too hard in some cases, and (b) too soft in others, which I think was due to my colleague knowing student intentions rather than marking the work which was submitted. I know this colloquially as "up the lead judging" from dog showing circles, where the owner is judged, not the performance itself. 

There is a lot to be said for a good marking schedule, a clear assignment brief, exemplars and outside markers. I am starting to think that not marking your own student's work is probably the best way for all of us to reduce bias. The trouble is that the organisation and infrastructure that would take is beyond each institutions' resources. It would need to be a collective national will and collective national standards. I am not sure NZ is ready for that.

Which brings me to another interesting bias. In NZ, the tertiary education sector has been noticing annecdotally that young women tend to out-perform young men of the same ethnicity (Pakeha/European, Maori, Paskifika, Chinese, Nepalese, Indian). While English as a second language (ESOL) students do not get higher marks than native English speakers in my experience, within each ethnic group the young women outperform their male peers. Gibb, Fergusson and Horwood found the same in 2008, with young men acheiving a 4.0 average and young women 4.4.

Yet when they all graduate, the young women get paid less than their male colleagues, and take much, much longer to climb within organisations. More "up the lead judging". We need to stop this stuff and reward always on skill, not on who stands before us.

A way to make us blind to the person (read more on that here) so we can (a) clearly evaluate skill and (b) suspend our preconceptions would be great.

Any ideas on how to do that?

  • Reference: Gibb, S. J., Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, L. J. (2008). Gender differences in educational achievement to age 25. Australian Journal of Education, 52(1), 63-80

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