How to Reduce Racial Bias in Grading (Use Objective Rubrics)

More important than the observation that teachers graded identical writing samples differently based on racially-coded names is the discovery that the bias disappeared when teachers filled out a simple objective rubric. That’s good news.

To gauge the potential impact of a standardized rubric on grading bias, I conducted an experiment comparing how teachers graded two identical second-grade writing samples: one presented as the work of a Black student, and one as the work of a white student.

My experiment found that teachers gave the white student better marks across the board—with one exception. When teachers used a grading rubric with specific criteria, racial bias all but disappeared. When teachers evaluated student writing using a general grade-level scale, they were 4.7 percentage points more likely to consider the white child’s writing at or above grade level compared to the identical writing from a Black child. However, when teachers used a grading rubric with specific criteria, the grades were essentially the same.

The experiment also included a series of questions asking teachers about their background and their racial attitudes. In exploratory analyses examining bias by teachers’ own race, gender, and the racial makeup of the schools where they teach, I found larger bias in grading by white and female teachers, who were less likely to rate the Black child’s writing as being on grade level compared to the white child’s writing. However, I didn’t find any connection between my measures of teachers’ implicit and explicit racial attitudes and the differences in grading the Black and white student writing samples. –David M. Quinn, Education Next