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Students with alphabetically lower-ranked names often receive lower grades than their peers, according to a recent study from the University of Michigan.

The study, which analyzed more than 30 million assessment records from the Wolverine State’s flagship from 2014 to 2022, shows that students whose last names start with W, X,Y and Z received grades that were approximately 0.6 points lower than their peers whose names begin with A, B and C.

Researchers attribute the discrepancy to unconscious “sequential grading biases” and the default order in which instructors review students’ submissions for an assignment or test on Canvas—the most widely used online learning management system.

The study also found that alphabetically disadvantaged students receive comments that are notably more negative and less polite.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make the grading fair and accurate, but even for me, it was really surprising,” said Jun Li, an associate professor of technology and operations, who co-authored the study. “It didn’t occur to us until we looked at the data and realized that sequence makes a difference.”

The researchers noted that the option exists to grade assignments in random order, and some educators do. But a simple fix would be for Canvas and other online learning management systems to make random order the default setting.