Thursday, January 31, 2008

Grade Appeals

Typcially a fair number grade appeals are denied. The University spells out the four allowable reasons for a grade appeal in the undergraduate catalog and "I wish I got a higher grade" is not one of them. And since those are the grounds on which most students appeal, it makes it fairly easy to reject. We even help them out by putting on the math department's grade appeal form the four allowable grounds with instructions to check off all that apply. Most students don't check off any of the four and then go on and on about how they're going to lose their scholarship because of a low grade in the class. Not following the directions will not help your chances of getting a higher grade.

This term, however, I'd approved everything that crossed my desk. There was one case where circumstances called for not so much changing the grade itself but changing the grading option from letter grade to pass-fail. It was the sort of compromise where no one was really happy with the outcome but it solved the problem. Another case had a student present verifiable documentation of a very unenviable situation, and we recalculated the grade in a way that reduced the impact of the circumstances. In each of these cases I could see the student's point of view, and I agreed that following the letter of the law wasn't the best option.

Another grade appeal showed up this week. Based on the student's initial contact with me over email and the way that the student filled out the written form, it seemed like a reasonable request. There were some things that happened during the semester that may have put some students at a disadvantage; the student alluded to these events in the intial contact with me. I was ready to double-check with the instructor about some fairly routine questions and then approve this appeal, too. Then the student emailed again asking to meet with me.

So I decided to hold off on contacting the instructor until I had met with the student. Student came by my office today. Instead of sticking with the initial story (which conformed to the "four grounds"), this student elaborated and embellished. Went off on tangents unrelated to the grounds for a grade appeal and cited those as the major reasons. Said some things that I didn't quite understand.

This afternoon I asked the instructor not just the routine questions but for details. Specifics. The instructor has documentation. Seems that the four grounds don't really apply in this case at all. Just another situation where someone is wishing for a higher grade after the fact. Sometimes it's just better to keep your mouth shut.