Instructors may use a variety of grades during the quarter, from points, to letters, to percentages–yet all but a few schools and colleges use the University’s four-point decimal system to assign final course grades.
Your department may have information on the average grade given in the department as a whole and in the particular course(s) where you have responsibilities. These norms are usually seen as guides rather than mandates, but many instructors find them useful especially during their first few years teaching at the UW. It is a good idea to become familiar with your department’s unique grading policies.
Grading is an extremely complex task. Grades do not exist in a vacuum, but are part of the instructional process and serve as a feedback loop between instructor and student. It follows, then, that grading policy should be consistent with the learning objectives for the course.
Discussing grades with students
Grading is easier—and less likely to be contested—if you’ve been making the evaluation criteria for individual assignments clear from the beginning. Sharing your standards once at the beginning of the quarter will not necessarily be sufficient to clarify things for the students. Be prepared to repeat the information several times—out loud, on the board, in Canvas Announcements—and most importantly, in each discussion of assignments and their evaluation.
Ideally, your grading criteria should be implicit in everything you say in class; the ways you define and analyze problems and present evidence should model the processes you want to see in student work.
Additional ideas for discussing grades with students
- If you’re grading on the percentage of points a student earns (“95 percent and over is an A,” etc.) work out a system for translating those percentages into the decimal system.
- When communicating this system to students, indicate some broad guidelines about percentages in terms of the entire course, rather than on every exam or graded piece of work.
- On early tests, consider leaving the raw score as a percentage only, rather than assigning it a decimal or letter grade. This can avoid repeated queries as to whether an 87 is a 3.3 or 3.4, or B or a B plus, etc.
- Be consistent and equitable.
- Make sure students know what types of questions will be asked, what types of evidence they will be expected to present, or what procedures they will be expected to follow. Whenever possible, share sample questions ahead of time.
- Make sure students understand why they are being tested on certain material—what is being measured, how it is being measured, and what the test has to do with course objectives. Are students being asked to recall information, recognize patterns or analogies, draw inferences, make connections, originate a thesis, or what?
Keep accurate and thorough records of your evaluation of each student’s performance throughout the quarter. You should also keep your records for a while after the quarter is over, since students may come back later to question a grade, finish an incomplete or ask you to write a recommendation. Your records will help you to justify and/or reevaluate a student’s final grade if necessary.
What to do when students contest grades
When students ask you to change a grade, act carefully. Give yourself time for further investigation in order to help you prepare a fair and equitable response. Note that UW policy states that “Except in the case of error, no instructor may change a grade that he or she has turned into the Registrar.”
If a student approaches you to contest a grade it can be helpful to have the student submit their request in writing, which will require the student to reflect on and justify their request. This also provides you with documentation should you be asked to explain your decision at a later point. Finally, document your interactions with disgruntled students as promptly as possible so you have accurate notes for a subsequent discussion.