American University is hosting a seminar next month that will teach its faculty a new approach to grading its students’ writing — and the professor who’s teaching it believes that teachers should “dispense almost completely with judgments of quality when producing course grades.”
The seminar, titled “GRADING AIN’T JUST GRADING: RETHINKING WRITING ASSESSMENT ECOLOGIES TOWARDS ANTIRACIST ENDS” is scheduled for February 1 and will be taught by Asao Inoue, a University of Washington–Tacoma professor.
“This plenary will argue against the use of conventional standards in college courses that grade student writing by single standards,” the schedule description states. “Inoue will discuss the ways that White language supremacy is perpetuated in college classrooms despite the better intentions of faculty, particularly through the practices of grading writing.”
Presumably to gain a better understanding of what kind of “conventional standards” that Inoue had a problem with, The College Fix looked into some of his previous writing. The quotation that stuck out the most to me was from his paper titled “A Grade-less Writing Course that Focuses on Labor and Assessing,” in which Inoue makes the case that writing instructors should “calculate course grades by labor completed and dispense almost completely with judgments of quality when producing course grades.”
Like a lot of dumb ideas in academia these days, this one is obviously being carried out in the name of social justice. If you look at just the title of the seminar itself, it initially kind of sounds like it would be a great idea. “Antiracist” grading sounds fantastic! In fact, I for one love grading that isn’t racist! Who could be against that? But the truth is, like far too many ideas that come from modern social-justice circles, digging deeper will reveal that not only is it stupid, but it’s also actually quite a bit more racist than the status quo.
Let me explain. As the Fix notes, much of Inoue’s writing on the subject centers around the idea that he sees inherent racism in current grading standards because white students do better than black and Latino students do. So his argument is essentially that in order for black and Latino students to receive better grades, the grading system needs to be overhauled to eliminate nearly all considerations of “quality.” This is, on its face, inherently racially insulting because it seems to assume that black and Latino students are only capable of turning in writing that is lower in “quality” than white students’ writing. Apparently, he sees no hope for these students to actually improve the quality of their work in order to earn higher grades — no, for him, the only solution is apparently to take quality out of the equation altogether.
The truth is, the only way to avoid racism or sexism in grading is to ensure that grading is done based solely on quality. If a student writes a high-quality paper, then he gets a high grade, regardless of his race. If a student writes a low-quality paper, then he gets a lower grade, regardless of his race. It may seem ironic to Inoue, but it’s actually when teachers start taking anything but the quality of the writing into account that bias is allowed to slip in and influence the grade unfairly.
It’s also important to remember that earning a high letter grade in a college writing course means absolutely nothing if you haven’t actually learned how to write well. Inoue wants to “calculate course grades by labor completed,” but I can tell you as a writer that absolutely no editor is going to judge your work based on the “labor” involved; they’re going to judge based only on the results. I’ve toiled over many columns that I simply couldn’t figure out how to get quite right, only to have them ultimately rejected by my editor for not being of the necessary quality. My “labor” made absolutely no difference in the decision to reject those columns — and it shouldn’t have.