Faculty Evaluation and Coaching Department
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Real Life Grading Dilemmas

Consider the following grading dilemmas:

  • Student X really tried. He came to every class, turned in all his homework on time, had a good attitude and paid attention…but his work wasn't very good.
  • Student Y turned in great work…but she turned it in late, missed two classes, and frequently came 20 minutes late to class.
  • Student Z earned a "C-"…but he has shown signs of being very upset with any grade below a "B".
  • Student W's graduate-level work is only average by industry standards…but hers is by far the best work in the class.
  • In a class of 16, Students J, K, L, M, and N didn’t turn in the final project (or turned it in incomplete) and were missing other work.

Here's some expert advice from veteran Academy instructors:

  • Student X has demonstrated some good professional practices and deserves high marks for that portion of his final grade. However, his key technical, aesthetic, and/or conceptual skills are weak. Review the course learning outcomes on the syllabus: can you actually say that he has met all of them? If not, it is in his best interest to take the class again. If you are having trouble deciding whether Student X should pass, discuss his work with your department director.
  • Student Y has mastered the key technical, aesthetic, and conceptual skills in your class. However, her professional practices are weak, and likely to get her into trouble down the line. While she will likely pass your course, her lack of professionalism will lower her grade—perhaps substantially. (Your department probably has published guidelines on attendance, tardiness, and late work; many instructors also discuss/distribute their own policies at the beginning of the semester.) Clearly communicate to this student where she needs to improve.
  • Student Z may well complain, but complaining should not change the grade he earned. Be prepared to explain the grade clearly and professionally. If Student Z is still unsatisfied, refer him to your department director. The director can ensure a fair hearing, which often entails a review of the student's work and your grading records. Your director can also assist you if you feel that a student is behaving inappropriately around a grading issue.
  • Student W (and her lower-performing classmates) should be graded according to the standards recognized by your department for work at this level. Don't let the students dictate the standards in your class. If you are unsure what level of accomplishment Student W has achieved, show her work to your director, or ask an experienced instructor who is teaching your same class to evaluate her work.
  • There is no safety in numbers. Students J, K, L, M, and N failed to meet key requirements in your class and should receive D's or F's. You are not doing these students any favors by passing them on without the necessary skills.

This is also a good time to jot down notes for the next semester. Do your students' final grades accurately reflect their skill level, or do you need to make adjustments to your grading scheme? Reflecting on the implications of your final grades will help you make improvements for next time.