Grading exams: The staircase method

Daniel Solove, a law professor, offers A Guide to Grading Exams on Concurring Opinions. It starts with a stack of exam papers. Then comes the toss down the stairs, which provides a spread for the grading curve.

This is an example of a toss of considerable skill — obviously the result of years of practice.


Solove believes the papers that travel the farthest deserve the highest grades because they obviously have more heft. But an outlier that requires the professor to walk too far should be downgraded to a B.

Is he joking? Yes, he is. Or so he writes.

Via Instapundit, who also is a law professor.

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  1. The science teacher in the room next to mine, for a bit of humor, put a triple-beam balance on his desk as students started in on their finals. Students stapled their papers together and placed them on his desk as they finished. He set the paper on the balance and pretended to write a grade on the paper and place it in a folder. Before long the students thought they had figured out what he was doing. The very next student put 10 staples in his paper before handing it in. : )

  2. I base my grading on favoritism. It mirrors a bell curve and it allows me to be vindictive.

    Most of all, it saves time.

  3. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    Mister Wright…

    You forgot the best part of favouritism grading: it actually tends to mimic merit-based grading with a 95% confidence, without having to actually evaluate the merits!

  4. Yes, you’re right. Too bad about the 5%, but there are only so many hours in a day.

  5. Homeschooling Granny says:

    I actually did use stair steps to help me grade essays when I taught English as a second language in Afghanistan! It was only as a convenient way to sort papers during an initial reading. I was pleasantly surprised when I picked them up for a more careful read through that they’d fallen into meaningful divisions.


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