What to do if students don’t like their grades

One of Janet Samuels’ Arizona State University accounting students approached her this year about poor grades, noting that he had gotten caught up in the social aspects of college and that he didn’t had therefore not done well in Samuels’ class. Could she, he wondered, offer him extra credits so he could improve his grade?

The answer was no, but the inevitable scenario is one that Samuels, CPA (inactive), Ph.D., has faced many times over the 20-plus years she taught accounting. She has developed processes to deal with this, from including extra point opportunities that are universally offered to a class, to making grading calculations clear, and ensuring that everyone in her classes is treated fairly. .

“You try to respond very positively to students by saying, ‘It’s great that you’re refocusing your efforts on academics, because that’s why you’re here,'” Samuel said. “‘But on the other hand, it wouldn’t be fair to other students who met the deadlines and studied for the exam.'”

We spoke to Samuels and others at higher education institutions about how they handle student requests for grade changes or adjustments. Here are their tips:

Be open to discussions. Everyone makes mistakes, and that’s one of the reasons James Long, CPA/ABV, CGMA, Ph.D., listens to his students when they raise concerns about test grading at the School of Accountancy at Auburn University, where he teaches.

By having an honest and respectful exchange, Long sometimes realized that a test question was unclear and opened the door to multiple or more nuanced answers. In these cases, he will often issue partial credit and ensure that adjustments are made for the entire class.

“Teachers aren’t perfect and students usually understand that,” he said. “When you frame it from a fairness perspective, it’s a win for you and the student when they point out a mistake and you correct it.”

More often, however, the discussion reveals that the student still has not grasped the concept on which he is being tested. Long then has the opportunity to go over accounting principles with the student one-on-one to help them understand.

“For me, the key is to be open to discussion, to let students know that you’re on their side and want them to succeed, but also hold them to high standards,” Long said. .

Use your program. Ensuring students have a level playing field is paramount, and having a clear and transparent explanation in the curriculum about grading goes a long way to avoiding requests for changes later, said Lori Jackson, CPA, professor of accounting at Broad College of Michigan State University. Business.

Jackson walks through the grading process on the first day of class, and that clarity builds trust between her and her students.

“Deal with those ranking issues early on,” she said. “If you don’t, it will damage your relationship between you and your students.”

Integrate additional opportunities. Jackson does not offer additional credit to individual students upon request, per its department’s policies.

But that does not mean that there are no chances for students to get extra points. She lists opportunities in her curriculum at the start of the semester for students to listen to guest speakers or speakers for extra points.

This approach puts the blame on the students, she said, and avoids scenarios where students who complain might their fellow students not. This also allows him, when a student approaches him at the end of a semester contesting a grade, to inquire whether he has taken advantage of known means to earn additional points.

Give grade updates. Samuels takes time before the class drop deadline to update students on their progress. Even though the grading system she uses is available to students and explained in detail at the start of the semester, she has found that reaching out to students individually has tremendous benefits. Many college campuses use learning management systems that are used across campus, so students and instructors know how grades are determined. When Samuels teaches large classes, where she may have several hundred students in a lecture, she uses technology and messaging tools to make it easier, and in accordance with student privacy regulations.

For those who are falling behind, Samuels can start a discussion about how to improve or, if they’ve fallen too far behind, let the students decide if they’re being overstretched and should drop out of class.

“My job as a teacher is not to assign grades,” Samuels said. “My job as a teacher is to help them learn the material so they can get the grades they want in the course.”

Thinking about it that way, she said, shows students that it’s their responsibility to meet expectations. She also requires students to use her grade sheet to calculate their anticipated grade before meeting her, so they know where they stand and can then discuss during the meeting what the student needs to do to improve.

Samuels suggests that professors also take the time to reach out to successful students. Too often, interactions arise when students are performing poorly, but leaving a note to a student who is performing well can spark additional engagement. This approach was especially appreciated when teaching during the pandemic, when many students were learning virtually or were socially isolated. Having that extra interaction with a teacher was meaningful, she said.

Refer students for help if needed. Some students requesting grade changes may indeed face extraordinary situations, whether those scenarios involve mental health issues, financial pressures, family issues, or disabilities that make classrooms difficult.

In these cases, it’s important to contact campus offices that are better equipped to help students in crisis, Long said. Auburn University has a program called Auburn Cares specifically for this purpose.

“I am always available to have the first discussion with a student, but when they communicate that there are underlying ‘crisis’ circumstances, I bring them to Auburn Cares as quickly as possible as they are trained to help. students beyond just lending an empathetic ear,” Long said.

Samuels also maintains a list of various people and programs on campus who can help struggling students in his office, including lists of university resources for assessing disability accommodation requests and health or student mental health. This way, she can easily retrieve information to pass on to a student or contact each other if the situation warrants this approach.

While it’s important for faculty to listen to students about grade issues, it’s ultimately up to students to apply, Samuels said. She sees many parallels to the audit work she did early in her career, where an auditor struggles to establish a good working relationship with a client, but is ultimately required to keep the business going. well-defined standards.

“I will do everything I can to help them learn,” she said of her students. “But at the end of the day, I’m accountable to society, to make sure that those students learned something and that grade stands for something.”

Sarah Ovaska is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at [email protected].

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