‘Blind marking’ has had little impact on academic performance, new study finds

Anonymous marking in university assessments has had little impact on the academic performance of different student groups, a study has found.

A team of researchers, led by Dr Danny Hinton at the University of Wolverhampton, undertook a large-scale examination of the effectiveness of anonymous (blind) marking where there can be no unconscious bias based on gender or ethnic background.

The study looked at assessment records for over 30,000 students, spanning a 12-year period. 

Dr Hinton said that while the research found some performance differences between male and female students, and between major ethnic groups, the introduction of anonymous marking did not appear to have improved these differences. 

This calls into question whether anonymous marking is a useful way to make university assessments fairer for a diverse study body.

The findings have been published in the peer reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Dr Hinton, a lecturer in psychology, said: “We were somewhat surprised by these findings.  Universities are gradually becoming more diverse, so it’s important for us to ensure that our assessment practices are fair to students from all backgrounds. 

“Anonymous marking was intended to do just that, by removing the potential for assessors to treat students differently based on characteristics they could infer from a student’s name.  However, it seems that, in this case at least, anonymous marking hasn’t really helped to improve performance differences between different groups of students.”

He said that there were a number of positives that could be taken from the findings. 

“First, it seems that assessors do not appear to be negatively affected by unconscious biases when marking students’ work,” he said. “Secondly, the performance differences we observed are very small in practical terms, only amounting to an average difference of a few percentage points between higher- and lower-scoring groups. 

“Finally, while anonymous marking doesn’t appear to have reduced performance differences between these groups, it may have had a positive effect on the student experience in other beneficial ways.  For example, it’s possible that the implementation of anonymous marking might demonstrate to students that their university is committed to fair and ethical treatment of all students.  This could have had a positive effect on all students’ performance.”

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