How to Grade Students in an MBA Program

I adjunct professored at an MBA program for five years. It was a blast and I learned a lot. Its reasonably likely I’ll do it again one day depending on time and financial circumstances.

One thing that always frustrated me, though, was grading. It was unpleasant, and frankly, I don’t think there was enough guidance (read – enough uniformity among professors, which would have to be imposed from above). The result, of course, is grade inflation. I suspect that is common, though.

But there was something that bothered me even more. I was once at a meeting the Dean of Students convened on grading. One or two professors from each disciplines were asked to discuss how they graded students.

I went first. I noted the various tricks I used to try make myself grade blindly – I would do everything I could to ensure I didn’t know which student had turned in which test. I was somewhat apologetic that I didn’t entirely succeed – after a couple of quarters, each student’s writing style became obvious. Also, there is no way not to know which student is standing in front of you giving a presentation.

One of the finance professors went next, and his method of grading was similar. Ditto another finance professor. Next was an accounting professor – he didn’t grade blindly, but he had a very precise formula for assigning points to each question, so effectively, whether or not he knew whose test he was grading at the time, it would make no difference.

But when we got to the – well, for lack of a better term, the softer or more humanistic fields taught in MBA programs (organizational behavior, marketing, law), the professors had a completely different philosophy. In fact, professor after professor stressed that it was important to keep in mind which student’s test was being graded, as it was important to grade a student’s work holistically.

The problem with that, for me, is that it is open to abuse. Maybe I’m missing something, but it does seem to me that grading holistically, if it is abused, can mean little more that “well, I like him so he gets an A” or “I don’t like her so she gets a B.” Besides… what does it really mean if the student generally produces A quality work but tanked on one quiz. Should he/she get an A on that quiz too?

Does any of this mesh with anyone else’s experience? Does grading holistically make any sense to you?