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In the US, can a student who is already enrolled in a course grade homework assignments of all other students in the same course (but not actually accessing and changing academic records)? Is it legal and compatible with academic integrity?

Two of several issues that I'm concerned about are:
1. He has not actually done his own homework (because homework submissions are not recorded).
2. By comparing my paper with other students I wasn't able to observer a consistency in grading. Actually initially I found who has graded our homeworks based on a pattern of inconsistency in grading and also inappropriate comments on my paper.

However the professor rejects my concerns by stating that he has overseen and reviewed everything himself.

In this page from USC.edu it is stated that "Please note that it is not possible for you to be both a student and a TA within the same course. Federal law [FERPA] and University policy both specifically prohibit students enrolled in a class from being able to modify their own grades or to view or modify the grades of other students enrolled in that same class." However as pointed out by Bob Brown, Supreme Court allowed in-class peer-grading.

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    Is the grading student a member of your cohort? I could imagine a PhD student being an expert in a topic and taking the course for the easy credits. – Davidmh Mar 26 '16 at 18:34
  • @Davidmh He is a master student, I refused his request to involve in his cheating/plagiarism last semester. – Mark Mar 26 '16 at 18:48
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A student grading other students in the same course is unusual, but certainly not illegal. As to whether it is inappropriate, I would consider two cases:

  1. Sometimes professors ask all students to do part of the "teaching" responsibilities for a course, whether that be lecturing, grading, creating course notes, etc. The theory of this is that it forces a deeper engagement with the material, and may help prepare further skills. When grading or similar is done by a student or other students for a pedagogical reason like this, I see no problem, as long as the professor takes into account the potential for quality variation.

  2. If an individual student is simultaneously a class member and a TA/grader, that is much more unusual, and generally a bad idea. In this case, the pedagogical value of having all students engaged with the process is not there to balance the expected decrease in grading accuracy and quality. There may be certain unusual circumstances where it is appropriate, and a professor can, in fact, organize things to compensate for the issues that you raise, but in general I would be highly dubious about this practice.

  • Thanks, however generally it is illegal, see my update. But there has been some exceptional court decisions about peer-grading. – Mark Mar 26 '16 at 11:15
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    The Supreme Court disagrees with you. See Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo: law.cornell.edu/supct/html/00-1073.ZO.html – Bob Brown Mar 26 '16 at 11:36
  • I was aware of that, that's why I asked it here. The problem is that details are different, in our case it was neither peer-grading nor for learning purpose. And we didn't know who had graded until I figure out based on inappropriate comments on my paper. – Mark Mar 26 '16 at 11:49
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    The differences in detail don't matter. The Supremes said a grade is not a "record" under FERPA until it is recorded and maintained by the institution. As Jake Beal has written, such a practice is highly dubious, but it is clearly not illegal in the United States, so you need to get over that part. – Bob Brown Mar 26 '16 at 12:13
  • @BobBrown Ok, what's your idea about academic integrity? – Mark Mar 26 '16 at 13:29
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between jakebeal, bob brown and your edit, you seem to have much of the first part of your question addressed. I would add though, an addressing of the second part about academic integrity. It would seem that from your description, it is more a case of a single student performing this grading, rather than a pedagogical exercise in which all can partake. I also get your sense of frustration at a seeming lack of response from the professor. So what to do?

It seems (from Bob Brown's link) that it is not illegal. If your institution has a policy in place however, (based on the page to which you linked), regardless of what the law of the land says and what justification the university provides for their policy, their policy is their policy. If they say what is happening in your class shouldn't be happening, then it shouldn't be happening. If there's no official opposition, then your only recourse is to make a case based on the personal discomfort you feel about having your assessments, whether official or not, being prepared/(gossiped over? shared?) by a peer. And I don't at all mean to minimize it, if that's what you're feeling.

You mentioned a couple of things, including grading inconsistencies and inappropriate comments. These are potentially more serious, particularly with regard to academic integrity (what happens to these grades? recorded? even if not, you won't be helped in learning if the feedback is not consistent/constructive). As the professor has said he is reviewing this grader's work, he is then also responsible for what this person does. Depending on the severity, it may be something that needs to be taken to a higher power, depending on how strongly you feel something wrong is happening. If you do go that route, you might also want to be sure to stick to inependently verifiable observations (eg. you can get your hands on those other papers to demonstrate these inconsistencies, and unless you can prove he's not doing his homework, it might come across as a petulant accusation to just throw that out). Be aware though, that for the former, getting your hands on the papers of others, may itself weaken any argument about discomfort in marks being shared.

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Actually, students also learn when they evaluate others' writing and it also helps to improve the feeling of integrity and responsibility. Do not worry to much about the grade since you can always ask to see your paper. If he says he reviews the paper there is no problem.

  • I have compared my paper with other students, grading was not consistent. Also see my update. – Mark Mar 26 '16 at 11:13
  • The thing is, as long as the names are blanked out it suits the law – bantandor Mar 26 '16 at 13:41
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    It's not even necessary to conceal the names. See Falvo; there's a link in my earlier comment. – Bob Brown Mar 26 '16 at 14:47

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