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ta-grading
Credit: Yoon Chang

When students sign up for large lectures, they are also required to sign up for recitations, often picking whichever section best fits into their schedules. Different recitations have different teaching assistants, which often results in grading disparities between sections.

Many students find themselves stuck with TAs who are harder than those in charge of other sections. As a result, their grades are not comparable to their peers’ despite the fact that they are in the same lecture.

There needs to be greater consistency in TA grading across different recitation sections for the same course.

Some of the efforts put in place to try to minimize the grading variability are a required three-day training program for TAs, group grading, curving for a section, TA grading of specific exam questions across all sections of a course, and a strict grading rubric for all sections.

Despite these efforts, there are still extreme variations in grading, which should not be overlooked and brushed off as a natural occurrence.

For one, there should be more correspondence and communication between professors and TAs, especially with regard to students’ grades. Professors and TAs need to be on the same page. If TAs are giving radically different grades for similar work in different sections, there is clearly a disconnect between the professors’ and TAs’ expectations.

Other than the three-day training program, many of the other efforts initiated to combat inconsistencies in grading are only treating the symptoms of the problem. The problem is that TAs are grading based on their own personal educational experiences and not on a single, unanimous method established by the professors. By establishing better relationships between professors and their TAs and formulating solid grading parameters, professors can remove the variability across recitation sections.

While group grading — given that this method requires TAs decide grades together — could likely work, there is a good chance that due to time constraints and the volume of students, this method is somewhat impractical and thus, seldom done. However, group grading with the professor should be mandated for as many assignments as possible.

When TAs curve students’ grades, there is no way of telling how much their grades will actually be helped. Curving is up to each TA’s discretion. Curving, like the grade in general, is up to the TA and does not reliably guarantee consistency across the board. 

While a strict grading rubric is taking a step in the right direction, considering that there is still variability, there is a good chance that the TAs are not interpreting the rubrics in a consistent way. Therefore, the best way to have consistent results is to have the professor give the TAs an across-the-board method of grading (with a rubric). During the training program, the professor not only needs to teach them a scale for grading, but also teach them the proper way to interpret and scale the assigned coursework. Also, as previously mentioned, group grading with the professor should be mandated for as many assignments as possible, and the professor should do a check on recitation section averages to ensure that there is as much consistency as possible.

ILYSE REISMAN is a College sophomore studying english and music. Her email address is ireisman@sas.upenn.edu.

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