Tag Archives: grading

Avoiding the Black Hole of Grade Appeals


Students rush to exit the room except for one, who approaches the lectern gripping a paper, eyes bulging.


Professor, why is this a B+ instead of an A-?


Drops head in despair. A tear trickles down his face.


All kidding aside, most of us could happily live the rest of our lives without ever hearing a student question a grade again. Grade appeals can lead to a host of negative outcomes, not the least of which is the threat to non-tenured faculty of being asked to not return the next semester. Contested grades can also be a black hole for instructors’ time. However, several strategies can help minimize student confusion about or complaints over grades.

oct_shutterstock_391193044Use rubrics. Many grade appeals occur because students consider grading written work subjective. One way to avoid this particular complaint is to use rubrics. Much literature has made a case for using rubrics. (See last month’s post on grading strategies.) Because rubrics provide specific criteria by which student work is considered, they can make grading quicker and more transparent for instructors. When instructors clarify expectations, students understand where they fall short or succeed on a given assignment.

Make participation expectations clear. Do you mark students down for non-attendance or tardiness, reduce grades for late work, or assess participation? If you include these aspects as part of students’ final grades, assign a clear percentage to the criteria and display the policy prominently on your syllabus.

Begin each day with a quick quiz. Perhaps you do not want to measure attendance or tardiness but still want to encourage regular participation. Consider beginning each class session with a quick quiz instead. This way, performance on the quizzes offers concrete indications of student performance and participation.

Discuss the repercussions of plagiarism. Part of any course involving writing must contain a definitive policy addressing plagiarism. In both your syllabus and in class, discuss academic dishonesty and its ramifications. Better yet, provide a hands-on, in-class refresher, re-acquainting students with the mechanics of proper citation. If you suspect a student has either wittingly or unconsciously committed plagiarism, communicate—and document—your skepticism clearly. Consider writing a no-nonsense statement such as “I am giving this paper a “0” because it contains no citations” or the like on the paper in question. Then, with the student, discuss how to remediate the lacking skills.

Respond to student requests with empathy and fairness. Who hasn’t had a student ask for an extension because of illness, a family situation, or any number of legitimate (or not so legitimate) situations? Decide ahead of time how generous you want to be. Many instructors find that if they respond to such student requests with empathy but also reiterate their policies, they avoid contentious exchanges.

Be consistent with grading policy. Once you have made your grading criteria clear, stick to them. This is the best way to avoid grade appeals, especially those in which students point to another student’s grade. It is also the fairest and most equitable way to treat all your students.

How do you deal with grading complaints? Start a conversation!


Six Ways to Make Grading Easier

As much as we love to teach, it’s a fair bet to say that none of us relishes the idea of grading. Some instructors may have found a system that best serves their grading objectives. For those who are still searching, we’ve put together an overview of six ways to approach student assignments that will help you get through grading efficiently while providing your students with meaningful feedback.shutterstock_87230080_SEPT

 Before choosing a method, think about your overall approach to grading by considering some basics. First, define your grading goals and decide if you want to use number or letter grades.  Keep your system as simple as possible for yourself and your students. Discuss your method with students before you grade their first assignment. Build in editing time before due dates; experts in writing theory stress the importance of revision when teaching writing. Finally, strive for consistency.

Below are six approaches to grading. We’ve included links to sample grading masters with each grading approach that you can adjust to fit your assignments and objectives.

Assigned Weight. Assignments are graded against a series of elements, each with its own weight. For example, writing mechanics might carry a possible 30 points out of a total of 50.

Check Marks. This system allows students to revise their work as many times as required to earn a check mark, which usually signifies a B. Students’ term grades depend on the number of check-mark assignments.

Contract. At the beginning of a term, students sign contracts that outline criteria for receiving an A, B, and C grade in the course. Their signature confirms that they have read the evaluation criteria.

Dual Criteria. Content and grammar/mechanics carry equivalent values in this method. The instructor defines which errors and how many points to deduct for specific elements of the assignment.

Holistic Method. This method assigns one of three scores: excellent, acceptable, and unacceptable. Specific reasons for the assignation are included. Holistic means based on clearly established criteria, but assignments are considered as a whole, as the name suggests.

Workplace Standards. Grades match levels of professional standards, with an A marking a document that a supervisor would send with no edits, and an F showing no understanding of the assignment.

Which grading method do you use? Share your insights with us!