Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Standardize TA grading expectations

Quinn McGuinness

In college, grades determine students’ ability to get into graduate programs, maintain scholarships and remain in good standing with the University. It is no secret that significant importance is placed on GPA — one study found that more than 80% of college freshmen base their self-worth on academic performance. 

At UT, grades are often evaluated by professors and student teaching assistants. While human variation and error in grading may be unavoidable, the unregulated assessment of students’ work can have real implications on their GPA. To avoid the harm of inconsistent grading, professors should take measures to standardize TA grading objectives within their courses.  

Gia Nguyen, an advertising and human development sophomore, describes taking a large course with multiple TAs, each assigned to grade the work for a small group of students. After comparing lab results with her study group, Nguyen noticed that her assignments were graded more stringently than those evaluated by other TAs. 

“The way my TA judged (labs) was so wildly different from my other friends’ TA,” Nguyen said. “I’m pretty sure this is a universal problem. It’s terrible because some people are just too scared to speak up, so they’re not getting the GPA that they deserved.”

Accurate feedback reflects course criteria and can increase students’ confidence. However, 75% of students report that their schoolwork often or always causes them stress. When students receive inconsistent feedback across TAs, this can lead to further stress and confusion. 

“It made me so anxious every time I had to do the lab,” Nguyen said. “I wouldn’t care if the lab wasn’t worth that much, but it was such a big portion of our grade.”

Like all people, TAs’ experiential knowledge influences how they view assignments. Analisia Gutierrez, a TA in the English department, explained that each teaching assistant has different goals surrounding how or why they teach. Teaching assistants also come into their positions with varying areas of expertise, and both factors can influence how an assignment is assessed. 

“I would say sometimes newer TAs tend to be a little harsher,” Gutierrez said. “Someone who is already experienced might say, ‘Well, as long as four out of the five criteria is met, you give them the B or the A.’” 

While the occasional check-in with a professor may better equip new TAs and ensure that course criteria are clear, it can also become stressful for professors. While 36.5% of classes at UT have less than 20 students enrolled, 25.3% contain more than 50 students. Because this leaves room for variation in the feasibility of a hands-on professor and TA relationship, expanding initial professor guidance can improve consistency across class sizes.

“You might have not ever taught or graded before, and we’re just kind of tossing you in there,” Gutierrez said. “We’re like, ‘Oh, you went through eight-hour training. Now you’re ready.’”

For the guidelines, Gutierrez suggests that introducing concepts like pedagogy — concerning how and why you teach — may help new TAs develop in their new roles. In her own experience as a TA, focusing on pedagogy outside of the required training helped Gutierrez grow as an educator and grader. 

“What I want them to learn is how to expand their minds,” said government professor Alan Sager. “That’s the key. So it makes it even easier for the TAs to figure out what we want and fulfills the purpose of what we’re here for.”

Sager similarly explains that outlining course goals to his TAs, with a focus on how students should be graded and why, increases their ability to consistently judge written arguments for their merit. 

While each course will always look different between professors and classrooms, it is important to establish grading norms so that students are treated fairly. In order to promote student growth, we must empower TAs to evaluate assessments consistently. 

Wood is a social work junior from Austin, Texas.

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