Any student who has taken or is taking a course with me who wishes to discuss one or more of his or her scores from particular assignments or his or her overall class grade. Also, students planning to take or considering taking courses from me should read this document first.
I spend a lot of time having discussions with students regarding their scores on individual assignments and their overall grades in my courses. Because many students are unclear on the basics of how I handle these discussions, I have written this document to explain exactly this. This document is not an attempt to discourage students from discussing their scores and grades with me. However, I do hope to reduce the number of times I need to repeat certain messages.
I work very hard to design and evaluate assignments for my courses. Some assignments, such as homeworks and projects, are designed to help students learn the course material. All assignments are designed to help me accurately assess student mastery of the course material. The purpose of having discussions regarding scores and grades is to help to ensure the accuracy of the assessment process.
There are two ways that you can help to ensure that my assessment is accurate:
If you have found what you believe to be a problem with the score I have recorded for you on an assignment, please bring it to my attention. I would very much like to have your assistance in assigning you as accurate a set of scores as possible.
If you have found what you believe to be an error with a score I have recorded for you in my grade file, please bring it to my attention and bring with you the entire original assignment on which the scores are recorded. I will certainly check my grade file versus this assignment. If I find that the score was incorrectly recorded, I will correct it. In general, this is a very easy correction. For example, if the score you should have received on question 2 of an exam was 5 and I mistakenly recorded a score of 0 instead, I will certainly correct this score in my grade file, which would increase your overall score on that exam by 5 assuming that there are no other errors in recording the scores on that exam.
However, please note also that I may reduce your score, depending on the error(s) found. For example, suppose the scores you should have received on questions 1 and 2 of an exam are 1 and 5, respectively, but I have mistakenly recorded 15 and 0. If you bring your exam to me and show me question 2 and indicate that you think I need to change the 0 in my grade file to 5, please note that I will most likely check the scores on all of the questions on that exam and notice that the score for question 1 was also recorded incorrectly. I will then correct both scores in my grade file, reducing your overall score on that exam by 9 points.
Please also note that I am not obligated to adjust your scores or overall course grade in any way, simply because you allege that there is a score error in the grade file. For example, if I believe that you have altered the score recorded on your assignment, I will not only refuse to change the grade file, I will also file a report of academic misconduct with the University.
If you have found what you believe to be an error with the calculations in the grade file, please bring it to my attention and bring with you the calculations you have used to arrive at your conclusion. I will certainly check my grade file versus your calculations. If I find that the calculations in my grade file are incorrect, I will correct them. In general, this is a very easy correction. However, please note also that I may reduce your score(s), depending on the error(s) found. Please also note that I am not obligated to adjust overall scores or course grades in any way, simply because you allege that there is a calculation error in the grade file. (Examples for this section are left as exercises for the reader.)
If you have found what you believe to be work that was not correctly scored, please bring it to my attention and bring with you the entire original assignment on which the scores are recorded. I will generally review your assignment (but see Unwarranted Requests for Reviews, below). I may also ask you to clarify what you meant by part or all of your answer under review and/or explain why you think this assignment was incorrectly scored. This is generally a more involved process than the previous two and often involves significant discussion. Please be sure to leave yourself plenty of time for discussion if you bring such a situation to my attention.
What I am looking for in these discussions is evidence that I (or a teaching assistant) have, in fact, misjudged the understanding of course material that you have demonstrated by the work that you have provided for this assignment.
I am NOT looking for:
What I will do is to carefully reread what you have written, ask for clarifications if needed (e.g., I cannot read a word that you have written), and again assess the level of understanding that you have demonstrated on this assignment.
Experience has shown that the most common outcome of this process is that I will be unconvinced that the work in question was not correctly scored. If this is the outcome of my review, I will leave the score unchanged.
Another possible outcome of this process is that I will be convinced that the work in question demonstrates more understanding of the course material than the score reflects. If this is the outcome of my review, I will increase the score.
The third possible outcome of this process is that I will be convinced that the work in question demonstrates less understanding of the course material than the score reflects. If this is the outcome of my review, I will decrease the score. While this is the least common outcome, I have taken this action in the past and expect to take it again in the future.
Some students ask me to review many assignments on which they have done poorly, without regard to whether they actually believe that those assignments were incorrectly scored. If I believe that you are asking me to review an assignment without merit - that is, if I do not believe that you actually think that it was incorrectly scored - I may refuse to reconsider it. I will determine this by asking you to explain to me why you believe that the work is worth more than the score assigned. Moreover, if you repeatedly ask me to review assignments without merit, I may refuse to review additional assignments for you or I may even begin deducting points on such assignments.
The reason for these restrictions is simple: The purpose of having discussions regarding scores and grades is to help to ensure the accuracy of the assessment process. If the assigned scores are correct, there is no reason to reconsider them. Moreover, if you repeatedly ask me to review assignments without merit, that is a good indication that you do not understand the course material in question. After all, if you understood the material, you would understand why the work was not worth more credit.
These restrictions should not be interpreted as limiting your freedom to come discuss assignments for pedagogical reasons. If you are unclear as to why your work was not correct and want to learn, I am more than happy to help you understand the material. However, note that this is different than reviewing assignments for scores and will not result in a score change on a previous assignment.
Many students ask me to improve their scores and, more often, their grades, for reasons other than helping to ensure the accuracy of the assessment process. This often results in discussions of scores and grades without purpose. These are the discussions that I hope to reduce by writing this document.
"Please, I need a better grade! If I don't get one, things will be terrible for me."
Discussions of scores and grades without purpose often revolve around the negative consequences that students face as a result of grades that I have assigned to them (or, less commonly, may face in anticipation of grades that I will assign to them). Such consequences may include a lower GPA, placement on academic performance contract, or the issuance of an academic stop. They may also include indirect consequences such as a loss of financial support or strained relations with family members.
I am sympathetic to these consequences and others like them. If you bring such matters to my attention I will work with you as we both see fit to help you find ways to deal with these consequences. However, I cannot take these consequences into consideration when determining your grade. My obligation to the University is to honestly assign grades based on my assessment of your understanding of the course material. I will not violate that obligation by assigning you grades based on outside considerations. Please do not ask me to do so.
"But I worked so hard! I deserve a better grade."
Another frequent topic in discussions of scores and grades without purpose is the effort that the student has put into the course. Hard work is commendable. However, your grades are based on outcomes, not input. The number of hours you spent working on assignments or studying for tests, the number of nights you went without sleep to complete projects, and the amount of mental effort you exerted wrestling with the concepts from the course, whether considered alone or in comparison with your efforts in other courses, are not factors that I can count when determining your grade.
Your grade is based on the scores of your assignments, which I have designed to allow me to assess your mastery of the material. If you did not do well on the assignments, then my assessment is that you have not mastered the material, regardless of the effort that you put into it. My obligation is to give you a corresponding grade.
"I know this stuff, I was just too busy to get it done."
Related to the amount of time spent on the course is the amount of time available to spend on the course. Students often tell me that they could have done better if they weren't so busy with other courses, work, family, community service, and so forth. There are many worthwhile activities besides my courses and it is not my place to judge your priorities. However, if you choose to spend your time on other things and your coursework suffers, then your grade will suffer as well.
There are, of course, legitimate reasons for needing a second chance to demonstrate your mastery of course material. Please see Reasons for Needing Replacement Assignments or Extensions for details of these. Short of such reasons, however, my assessment must be based on what you accomplished on the assignments given. If you did not do well on the assignments, then my assessment is that you have not mastered the material. My obligation is to give you a corresponding grade.
"I was so close to an A, can't you just give me one?"
Finally, there are discussions regarding grade cut-offs. Students will sometimes see that they are very close to the cut-off point for the next higher grade and ask to be assigned the higher grade. While it is understandable to feel disappointed because you barely missed out on something, this is not a legitimate reason for me to increase your grade.
Your grade is based on your scores and the cut-off point. As covered extensively in this document, I work hard to see that your scores accurately reflect your mastery of the course material and I appreciate your help in doing so. Likewise, I work to ensure that the cut-off point is set so that the grade that corresponds to each score is an accurate reflection of the level of mastery represented by each score.
I often assign grades using cut-offs at 90%, 80%, 70%, and 60%. This can contribute to a belief that the cut-offs are arbitrary. They are not. During the course of the semester I work to adjust the scores on individual assignments to try to ensure that top quality work will earn a student between 90% and 100% of the points on each assignment, good work will earn a student between 80% and 90%, an so forth. Therefore, in most cases when the course is completed, the cut-offs at 90%, 80%, 70%, and 60% are accurate in reflecting that.
I verify the cut-off points in a number of ways, both during the semester and at its conclusion, including looking at the breakdown of scores for each assignment and for assignments in combination, including not only the mean, standard deviation, mode, median, max, and min scores, but also the percent of students in each category and the natural breaks between the clusters of student scores. If I determine the cut-offs should be adjusted, I do this before assigning final grades. Once you have received your final grade, simply pointing to the fact that you were near a cut-off line will not convince me to adjust your grade.
Another way to look at this is to consider that in a large class, there will almost always be someone relatively close to any cut-off point chosen. Therefore, if I were to institute a policy of giving students close to the cut-off point a higher grade, I would need to give everyone an A. You see, if I increase your grade, I would, in effect, lower the cut-off point. That would put another student close to the new cut-off point. To be fair to that student I would need to give him or her the next higher grade, effectively lowering the cut-off point again. Then another student would be close to that cut-off, and so on until all students are above the top cut-off. Clearly, I am not going to do this.