Friday, August 24, 2007

Ask My Readers: Grade Appeals

(I'm thinking out loud in this post, looking for constructive suggestions. This is not some sort of position paper.)

How does your college handle grade appeals by students? Has it found a fair, reasonable, and aboveboard way?

I ask because we're going through another catalog revision, and having taken a fresh look at some sections that nobody has looked at in a while, I found a pretty untenable grade appeal process. I've called it to my colleagues' attention, who agree that the existing policy doesn't make sense, but we aren't quite sure what to propose to replace it.

(A policy like this would have to be approved by the Academic Standards Committee, which is composed primarily of faculty, so there's no spectre of administrative micromanagement here. We can propose or suggest, but we can't enact. But I don't want to propose anything stupid, since that doesn't solve anything.)

I'm thinking that some of the parameters for a reasonable policy might be:

  • Above the department level, there will be no 'content' judgment. To carry an appeal over a department chair, there would have to be a claim of some sort of process irregularity (a computation or recording error, a meaningful deviation from the syllabus, favoritism, bias). My thinking on that is that you need subject-matter expertise to judge content, and the higher you go, the farther removed from any given subject you get. If a student claims that his Spanish professor graded his oral presentation incorrectly, I'm in no position to make sense of it one way or the other.

  • The burden of proof is on the student bringing the appeal. A professor's grade is presumed valid until the student shows that it isn't. The benefit of the doubt goes to the professor.

  • There should be a pretty strict statute of limitations on grade appeals. I'm thinking a semester or a year, though I'm not wedded to that. But asking a professor to recall the details of an oral presentation four years after the fact strikes me as nuts.

  • In cases in which the professor is no longer present to be asked, the department chair may make the call. (I've had professors die mid-semester before. You need to have a contingency plan for this sort of thing.)

  • But...if a student follows the entire process and manages to show convincingly that her position is correct, the grade should, in fact, be changed. This is even true if it happens over the objections of the professor. While the professor's determination of the grade is given great deference, it is not inviolate.

Has your college found a reasonable balance that gives faculty the confidence that it won't be sold out at every complaint, but that still offers a wronged student a remedy? If so, how does that work?