Happy 2017! I have a feeling it’s going to be a doozy. But politics aside, today I’m writing about how to avoid any semblance that you, a college student with integrity, would engage in grade grubbing, an insidious, undignified practice that outta be outlawed.
In late December, Jeff and his parents came to see me after being referred to me by the Dean of the College’s office, and asked me to change a grade for an economics class. I had already printed out the student’s record, and a quick glance at his fall courses revealed no econ course. When I asked which course, they said it was Micro- and Macro-Economics from the spring term. I needed to find out why the grade should be changed – from their perspective – but I had to probe gently. They were in a pretty agitated state already. They said that the D was the student’s adviser’s fault. “How so?” I kindly inquired in a soft voice. Anyone who knows me knows that my voice isn’t exactly naturally soft, so I was really trying here. They said the adviser had not let their son drop the course when he wanted to. That sounded highly suspect, so I went into the advising system and read them the adviser’s notes regarding this course. She had suggested that Jeff petition to drop the course after the drop deadline because he was so worried about how he was faring in the course. The student refused and stomped out of the advising office. At that point, the parents really got a head of steam up and said they were going to the president’s office immediately. I worked with them for the next half hour to understand what kind of obstacle the D would pose in Jeff’s future and to explain the ins and outs of the straightforward grade appeals process. They calmed down a bit. But of course, I then called and emailed the president’s office to give them the low-down and followed the meeting up with an email to Jeff and his parents outlining the process, with a cc to the professor, the president’s office, and the adviser.
By now, all #CollegeStudents have received the semester’s final grades. If you are one of the many who is less than thrilled by the results of your work, read on. Here’s some advice I’ve come up with after watching students and professors (and parents!) agonize about grading issues for several decades now. We all know #GradeGrubbingIsUndignified, so it pays to approach grading issues respectfully and knowledgeably. Believe it or not, #GradeGrubbing is a huge conversation among college instructors. David Gooblar, a columnist for Vitae, wrote a great article directed to instructors on ways to reduce “grade challenges,” as he terms them.
Here are the steps you should take to embark on this process.
- Find the grading rubric or guidelines in the syllabus or course management system for the course you are concerned about. While it is a student’s responsibility to meet the demands of the course, it is the professor’s job to ensure students know how they are being evaluated and then to evaluate them accordingly. Print out the grading information.
- Get all your work together from the relevant course. Anything that earned a grade, a check mark, comments, etc. Anything that you handed in. List all of those results on the grading information page.
- If participation in class was a factor, think back on how many times you missed class and how much you contributed to the discussions, and how many times you met with the TA or professor during office hours. Does the grader know your name and have some sense of how invested in the course you were? With that information in mind, give yourself a fair grade for that piece of it.
- Now take a good look at all the work. Read any feedback the grader offered.
- Do the calculation on the grading info sheet you printed.
Is your result the same as the professor’s? If so, then you are done, and it’s time to think about how you might do better next semester. Which areas were your weakest? Your strongest? Is this course in your intended or actual major or minor? If so, it will be especially crucial that you figure out how to improve if the grade you earned was not one you are proud of. A follow-up conversation with the professor is always a good first place to start after reflecting on your overall accomplishments in the course.
Is your result higher than the one on your transcript? If so, it is time to reach out to the grader(s). Craft a kind email, avoiding anything that even vaguely resembles grade-grubbing, which is an undignified and all-too-common practice. It only reflects badly on you. Professors can’t stand it. And it won’t get you anywhere good. And for goodness sakes, do not have your parents write or call the professor! You can write a respectful email inquiring in the gentlest possible terms whether you might meet with them to talk about the outcome of the course. (Note that some course instructors include a deadline for grading inquiries!)
What if you do not hear back from the TA or professor within a week? Every college approaches grade disputes differently. In most cases, the term “grade dispute” is pretty strong. In any case, look up “grade disputes” or “grade appeals” on your college’s website. Usually, you will find a step-by-step process.
- Ithaca College’s is delightfully clear, short and simple.
- Purdue University provides a comprehensive example.
- Colorado State University offers a funny picture and links to the relevant info.
- Here’s the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill instructions.
Normally, the grade dispute or appeals process is multi-layered, but it should always start with a conversation between the student and the grader. I know this is difficult to do. After all, you are in an evaluative relationship with the professor and TA’s. Most universities and colleges will require that you have that conversation, however, so it pays to have all your ducks in a row – all the work, the grades, the feedback, the grading rubric, and your grade calculations. It is easiest to start this conversation if you already have a good relationship with the faculty member, which is why it is imperative that you visit faculty during office hours at least two or three times in the semester. I wrote a blog post about that last year.
Anyway, moving on. After that one-on-one conversation, if you haven’t gotten the outcome you believe you deserve, the next step might be the advising staff, the provost’s office, the dean of the college’s area, a department chair, a department’s director of undergraduate studies, a dean of the faculty, etc. etc. etc. That’s another reason it’s important to find the grade appeals info before you embark on the process.
I’ve left the most important part of this process to the end. Through the in-depth consideration of your work in the course, you hopefully had some take-aways about your work that you can bring with you into future coursework. Even if your grade dispute process leaves you with the same grade you had when you started it, if you’ve learned something beneficial for the future, it will all have been worth it.
Next semester, print out the grading rubrics for all of your courses before the first class and keep them available throughout so that you can determine how much time and energy to put into the various aspects of the class. Plus, go see the instructor of each course at least two or three times to talk over the coursework. If any of the grading seems unclear along the way, you can talk about that during those office hours as well.
Good luck this spring!