Grade Contest: Negotiating a Grade Appeal

Grades are very personal, especially written assignments. Students will sometimes question or even challenge a grade that they were given on a paper. By providing detailed feedback, grade appeals often be avoided. When points are being deducted from a paper or assignment, it is best practice to include a comments explaining why points were deducted.


The comments should be tied to the grading rubric. The grading rubric should specifically include expectations. When the expectations are not met, a comment will help to direct the student to the section of the rubric where points were deducted. Students may disagree with the way a particular section of the paper was scored. They may wish to discuss why points were deducted from a particular column of the rubric. The comments provided not only help the students but they can also be beneficial in sparking your memory. The help to clarify why points were deducted. They lead to what was missing, incorrect, or in need of editing.

Handing back papers at the end of class allows students to focus on current material, get feedback, then leave and process. However, it can also mean that students stay after and immediately want to talk about their grade. You do not have to have a cornered conversation, schedule it!

The 24/7 Rule

As a part of my classroom policies, I have a 24/7 rule. Students cannot approach me about their grade within 24 hours of receiving it. This gives them time to cool off if they are upset and reflect on my comments. However, students do need to have a scheduled appointment to discuss their grade within seven days of receiving it. Even if the time that works best for the student and myself is 10 days later, the appointment must be scheduled within this seven day window. Having this clause helps to prevent talking about grades from week three in the final week of the semester.

The Meeting

Listen to what the student has to say. Be open to their argument. I also advise walking the student through their paper in relation to the rubric. If the student still does not agree with how you graded the paper, tell them you will need 24 hours to consider their argument. Explain to the student that you need time to consider their argument and review the paper in relation to the rubric. If you promise to follow up within 24 hours, honor that promise and contact the student letting them know your decision.  This may include explaining that they will see an increase in points for a particular section of the gradebook or that the grade will remain the same. alejandro-escamilla-2

After providing further explanation and clarification, students may request to revise or rewrite a paper for a higher grade. It is important to be prepared for this type of situation so that you are able  to respond appropriately, consistently, and fairly. You should consider how you will address requests to redo assignments. Will every student in the class who receives a low grade and wishes to revise an assignment be given the same opportunity? How much time will it take you to regrade papers that are revised and resubmitted? Grading assignments two times each can be very time consuming. Rather than accepting revised papers, I instruct my students to use the feedback to improve future submissions. Papers submitted early in the semester tend to be worth less points, so they do not impact their ability to improve their grade if they do implement feedback and comments into future submissions.

It is also important to consider unique or special situations that may call for the opportunity to revise and resubmit a paper for a better grade. While it is good to be fair, this does not always mean treating each student equally. There may be a situation that you decide calls for a resubmission.

Just like you may need time to consider a changing a grade, you may also need time to consider a request to redo an assignment. It is acceptable to let the student know you will need time to consider the request. Again, be sure to honor the timeframe in which you informed the student that a decision would be delivered.

Push Back

I remind students of my policy when I return papers, but I do have students that still attempt to talk to me before they leave. Even if they state they only need a minute, the bottom line is they want to have a detailed conversation about their grade. Discussing a grade at that point in the classroom is not the appropriate time or place.  It is acceptable to kindly remind students of the 24/7 policy. If they continue to push the issue, you may need to inform the student that a Code of Conduct will be filed.

You do not always have to give in to student requests. But you must ensure that the way you address situations regarding grade appeals is similar and fair. Don’t provide exceptions to one student that you are not willing to extend to all the students in the class. Remember some cases will call for special considerations. Students will talk. They will become aware of unfair practices. They will become upset and some will complain. But as long as your practices are equitable, you will have nothing to worry about.

Photo Credit: @helloquence & @alejandroescamilla

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