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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Progress report:

So you got a 'C' on the big test you studied so hard for. What to do? You're busy and the professor's grade must be right'she is the professor after all'so you glumly accept the score. Right? Maybe not. 




Even if there is no TA in sight, your exam or paper may have been evaluated by a grader'a $12/hour graduate assistant'with no guarantee the professor ever reviewed it.  




UW-Madison employed at least 130 graders last term'in the Colleges of Letters and Science, Law, Business and Engineering'said Bruce Beck, senior policy and planning analyst in the Office of Academic Planning and Analysis. 




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UW-Madison uses graders 'because there are times when a course is not sectioned and an individual faculty member could not do all the grading in a class,' said Nancy Westphal-Johnson, associate dean of L&S. She said a class usually must have an enrollment of 40 students to qualify for a grader. 




She also said even when a faculty member uses a grader, L&S expects that the faculty member will be involved in the grading. However, she said the faculty member decides 'how it will best work for him or her.' 




For Terry Warfield, associate professor of accounting, graders are primarily a resource for grading objective work. According to Warfield, 'Something that requires qualitative assessment and comparison, I wouldn't expect the graders to be able to do that according to my specifications.' 




In contrast, history professor Johann Sommerville uses graders for interpretive exams, he said. Sommerville discusses the answers he expects on exams with the graders'usually former students who know the subject well. He then grades several exams with the grader until he's confident the grader is doing it right. 




Sometimes Sommerville grades a student's final exam and compares the grade with the mid-term exam scored by the grader. If the two grades are 'wildly out,' Sommerville will double-check the grader's earlier grading, he said. 




Richard Boyd, assistant professor of political science, said he uses graders only for term papers, but goes over the papers 'in almost every case' as a means of quality control.  




One of Boyd's former students, UW-Madison junior Matt Zelle, said he was 'very satisfied with the grader.' Zelle said he sees the grader system as a 'necessary evil,' since it is 'entirely unreasonable' that every exam or assignment be graded by a professor or TA.  




Brandon Turner, a Ph.D. student in political science and former grader for Boyd, said he thinks the grader system is good, in part, because it gives students a 'second set of eyes' to grade each paper.  




But professors do not necessarily call attention to these extra eyes.  




Sommerville said he made 'no secret' about using a grader for his European history classes, but did not remember if he had explicitly mentioned it either. Warfield said he did not 'make an explicit item' of discussing the grader. 




John Martin, associate professor of sociology, said he announced using a grader for Sociology 475 fall semester when he returned mid-term exams. 




All faculty contacted said they were willing to reevaluate any grades assigned by graders. 




Melissa Scanlan, a junior at UW-Madison, said she asked Martin to review her Sociology 475 mid-term exam because the score seemed low. According to Scanlan, Martin revised her score'given by the grader'upward more than 20 points. 




Scanlan said she thinks using graders is a fine system overall, but also emphasized that instructors should 'let the class know that they are using a grader and that if something is graded wrong, feel free to come up ?? feel free to ask about it.'

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