Amid complaints of grade inflation and uneven evaluation, many schools have sought to find new ways to grade students. One of the more recent and perhaps most controversial is through outsourcing grading. While not widespread yet, a growing number of universities (including some online universities) are becoming more and more willing to try out this new trend in grading, sometimes hiring their own professional graders or an outside company that specializes in student evaluation. Reactions from faculty and students alike have been mixed, but many believe these external graders are more fair, consistent, and reliable than overburdened teaching assistants and professors.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about how outsourced grading is being used today and where it might be going in the future, read on, as we’ve collected information about some of the biggest trends affecting this new academic industry that may soon be coming to a college near you.
- Professional evaluators are helping reduce grade inflation.
Since 1960, the number of A grades given at colleges and universities has skyrocketed, growing by 28%. Fewer students than ever are getting C’s, D’s, and F’s in their classes, a fact that many blame on an educational atmosphere that’s more about money than learning, pushing professors to inflate grades. Many think that professional evaluators can help to curb this trend by giving out grades impartially and based solely on student performance, independent of other factors. While it’s yet to be seen what the long-term effects will be, with more than 86% of grades being A’s and B’s at private universities despite students spending less time studying than ever before, it may be a step in the right direction.
- The majority of outsourcing happens at the college level.
So far, colleges and universities have been the only ones outsourcing their grades. This could be due to the incredibly large class sizes some schools have, with professors and their teaching assistants simply unable to grade hundreds of papers in a reasonable time frame while keeping up with other work. Online colleges, especially Western Governors, have been especially proactive about seeking out outside graders, hiring a staff of more than 300 adjunct faculty just to grade student papers.
- Graders are kept secret.
In order to ensure that outsourced graders aren’t being biased (or paid off by students), their identities are usually kept secret from students and even other faculty at the schools using outsourcing programs. Schools with in-house programs guard their records carefully and it’s often not even an issue with outsourcing companies who have only one representative deal with clients, meaning no contact is ever made between graders and professors. While this may keep things fair, some see this disconnect as disturbing, detracting from the interactions between professors and students and making it more difficult to assess student progress.
- They must also be highly qualified.
Not just anyone can be an outsourced grader. Whether graders work directly for schools or for an outside company, they must hold at least a master’s degree in the field they’ll be grading in. This means that many are more qualified than the graduate students and teaching assistants who may have previously been grading papers. With many holding higher degrees out of work, this outsourcing could prove a new way to provide jobs, at least on a part-time basis, to these highly-educated individuals.
- Consistency in grading is often checked.
One of the biggest complaints students have about traditional grading methods is that grading often isn’t consistent. It may differ from TA to TA or from one day to the next with a single professor, leaving students complaining about grades they think are unfair. Outsourced grading is working to change that. Each grader must compare his or her results to those of other graders in a class on a regular basis. This helps ensure that everyone sticks to the grading rubric and that students are being assessed fairly against their peers. There is no reason this same system couldn’t be adopted in any other grading system as well.
- Software-based grading is an option as well.
Some professors are outsourcing their grading in a completely different way, bypassing human graders altogether. New software has made it possible to grade papers electronically, with a computer doing the assessment rather than a human being. This isn’t just for multiple choice tests anymore either; professors can also get help grading essays that students submit online. The writing is scanned for grammar and formatting, but also to ensure that it contains the right content and correlations. While systems aren’t perfect, many generate very reliable results and could become an increasingly useful tool for graders in the coming decades.
- Some colleges are even sending grades overseas.
With dozens of other industries outsourcing jobs overseas, why should colleges be exempt? Many of the largest grading companies are located overseas, like Virtual-TA, which is located in Bangalore, India. Professors submit papers to the companies and are given grades and feedback for students through email. While it’s a relatively new phenomenon, many professors who have worked with these companies report great student responses, as the graders are able to give better, more useful feedback that can help students improve their writing and their grades.
- Outsourced grading is controlled with strict rubrics from professors.
Outsourced graders aren’t grading based on their own discretion. Each grader is given a set of guidelines from a professor for elements that should be included in papers and how much should be deducted for errors or writing issues. This helps to ensure that all graders will produce similar assessments of students which, while strange for students, can actually be a good thing.
- These programs often focus on improving writing skills.
One of the biggest assets of outsourced grading, and what may make it a bigger draw for professors in the future, is the ability to give students in-depth feedback about their writing. Often, professors and teaching assistants don’t have time to write out descriptions of what students can specifically do to improve, but hired graders can and do provide this service to students. Plus, because they’re not bogged down with grading, professors can assign more writing projects to students, giving them more experience and a greater number of chances to hone their skills at the college level.
- Some professors are rebelling against outsourcing.
Not everyone is in love with outsourcing, however. Students and professors alike have raised some serious concerns with the process. One of the biggest problems with outsourced grading is that graders weren’t in class and don’t have knowledge of points, examples, and discussions that took place in class the way a professor might. Other professors simply feel that grade inflation isn’t as bad as critics say it is or believe that grading should be an essential part of the work they do. For now, while some schools are adopting these new processes, most are reacting with skepticism and even outrage to a practice they think is just plain unnecessary.