Posted by: Dr. Carolyn Edwards | July 17, 2013

Ask Dr. E – How to Resolve Grade Disputes

Ask Dr. E

How to Handle Grade Disputes

collge gradesDr. E this is my third year teaching graduate school without any incidents. Last week a student submitted a grade dispute. I have heard other staff talk about the pressure to change a grade for a well liked student or one that has family ties to the board of directors. This student submits average assignments and was assigned the grade “C” which was earned, but he states, “He needs a B in order for his employer to reimburse him for the course”. I like the school and my job and want to remain as an instructor in good standing that operates ethically. What should I do? (Concerned, TN).

I am sure many professors will agree that at some point you will have a student that challenges a grade. It is a student’s right to do so when they feel the grade is unwarranted or not a fair representation of their work. No matter the situation, you should always operate ethically and honestly. Here are some tips to help you navigate the process:

1.   Find Out the School’s Policy on Grade Disputes

Every institution has an official policy and process for disputing grades. You should be able to find that information in your employment handbook, human resources, course syllabus or on the school’s website.  Ensure you research those documents very well and give a copy to the student. This should help guarantee you both are on the same page as well as ensure you are following the school’s policy on escalating grade disputes using the proper chain of command.

2.     Put Everything in Writing

Sometimes students will speak with you in person or over the phone about their grading concerns; however it is best to have the student’s dispute or challenge in writing. Getting it in writing is key to having detailed documentation of the student’s concerns, applicable assignments as well as evidence and rationale for the dispute. The written dispute should serve as a guide or checklist for you to address each concern, document the methods you used to examine the student assignment submissions, detail the applicable policy and then outline your position with detailed data including each assignment submission, applicable grades and rationale as proof of your stance. Your written rebuttal should be provided to the student, school officials and a copy kept for your records.

3.  Always Keep Comprehensive Grading Feedback

An instructor best practice is to always provide clear, succinct and detailed notes to students on each assignment. Assignment evaluation should include:

  • Comprehensive summary and clear feedback on what they did right, what they did wrong and how they can improve.
  • Grading Rubric that details what comprises the grade, each element the assignment is assessed on, points for each element, as well as detailed comments for each grade letter i.e. what you will need for each element to earn a A,B, C, etc.
  • References made to the syllabus or other policies and standards to foster understanding of how each affects the assignment grade.
  • Additional references and specific insight to help them improve on future assignments

4. The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Do it right the first time in order to decrease the occurrence of grade disputes. Ensure that course expectations are clear and students not only have read but understand the syllabus, assignment requirements and grading policies. In some cases, students have to sign off on a document as proof of receipt. Ensure any changes or clarifications in assignments or course instructions are well documented and provided to students in writing. In the online environment you can send emails or post announcements in the course but if you are teaching at a physical location, provide students a paper copy and have them sign off that they received, read and understand the changes.

5.     Focus on the End Result

Some instructors complain students have commented, “I pay your salary”, “I can get you fired”, or “I will give you a poor evaluation if you don’t do what I want.” Your goal as the instructor should always be to provide a service that is in line with the mission, vision and goals of the organization. Do not take the dispute personally as stated before; it happens to many of us. Act professionally, ethically and honestly by only stating what can clearly be substantiated with documentation. Do not ruin your professional reputation by discussing gossip or innuendo. Treat all students alike and provide clear and effective feedback and instructions on every assignment. Let your work speak for itself.

When you follow these steps, no matter the outcome, know that you have done your best and acted in a professional and principled manner.

Dr. Edwards is a life & career management coach, author, online graduate management professor and the author of Teach Online 10 Simple Steps Dr. E blogs about career, life and school issues to help you live successfully at drcarolynedwards/ and tweets @dreoncall. For more information


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