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Dealing with grade challenges

Pile of student papers on a desk Photo courtesy of Tom Henderson

They typically begin trickling in 15 minutes after grades are shared with students.. You watch helplessly as your unread messages steadily grow along with your feelings of anxiety and annoyance. There is no escaping grade challenges, regardless of whether you’re a tenured professor or a teaching assistant. You can, however, take steps to minimize the number you receive.

Grade challenges are no joke to either instructors or students. As David Gooblar notes, a complaint from a student unhappy with their grade may be the deciding factor in whether an untenured instructor has a job next semester. Students on the other hand, are under significant pressure as they study in an environment where a tenth of a percentage point may all that stands between a scholarship or postgraduate studies.

Here are five ways to increase grading transparency and reduce challenges:

  1. Clarify grading policies on the syllabi
    Clearly outline your grading policies on the syllabi. Clearly lay out your course expectations and grading policies as transparently as possible. Use examples to outline what constitutes A, B, or C-level performance. State whether you round to the nearest decimal point or whole number. Outline assignment penalties for each day they are late. Be as thorough with your syllabus as possible. The time you invest now will be repaid exponentially.

  2. Use rubrics
    Similar to the syllabus, clearly lay out your expectations for each assignment. A rubric is an invaluable way to show students how an assignment will be graded and the weight given to each aspect.

  3. Provide formative feedback
    Assessments are meant to serve as learning experiences. The more detail you put into your comments and feedback on a student’s assessment, the less likely they are to challenge the grade.

  4. Use the 24/7 rule
    It is important to set aside time, electronically and in person, to discuss grades with students. However, students need time to review and digest the grades they receive. Require students to wait 24 hours to discuss their grades and only provide a seven-day window for their questions.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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