If you have a student who's struggling in school, there may be something at play besides aptitude and study habits. It may be your last name.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered that students with alphabetically lower-ranked names tend to receive lower grades.

Knowing Your A-B-Cs

An analysis of more than 30 million grading records finds that students having a surname that begins with A, B, C, D, or E tend to receive a 0.3-point higher grade out 100 when those students' projects were graded in alphabetical order by last name, compared to randomized grading order.

On the other hand, students whose surnames fall later in the alphabet received a 0.3-point lower grade, thus creating a 0.6-point gap.

Researchers believe the reason for the phenomenon is something they've termed 'Sequential Grading Bias.' They believe the grading bias is due to the default order of students' names in a program known as 'Canvas' - the most widely used online learning management system used by educators.

Alphabetically Disadvantaged Students Get More Negative Comments

University of Michigan researchers also discovered that students whose names fall later in the alphabet tend to receive teacher feedback that is more negative.

Jun Li is an associate professor of technology and operations at U-M's Ross School of Business. Li co-authored the study with doctoral students Jiaxin Pei and Helen Zhihan Wang.

"We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make the grading fair and accurate, but even for me, it was really surprising," Li said. "It didn't occur to us until we looked at the data and realized that sequence makes a difference."


Grading Fatigue Could be the Culprit

The researchers surmise that teachers tend to experience more fatigue as they grade projects and lose focus and patience as they complete the grading process.

Researchers note that although their findings were based on University of Michigan data, they can likely be generalized across learning institutions.


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