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Grade appeals rarely successful

Bomb that paper? No hope for a decent grade? The grade appeal process starts with the professor, and usually does not involve the approval of a college dean.
By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, December 3, 2004
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Students who have grade disputes with their professors can file a grade appeal, but professors on grade appeal committees say the chances of getting a higher grade are slim.

Each college has its own grade appeal committee, and Shelly McGrath, academic advising coordinator for the College of Science who oversees all grade appeals at the UA, said only one case from the College of Science made it to a grade appeal committee last year, and the grade change was denied.

Of the five grade appeals in the physics department last year, none resulted in a grade change, said Doug Toussaint, a physics professor and undergraduate adviser.

"Since grade appeals first go to the instructor, by the time they reach the department head or college level, most of the 'incorrect grading' claims have been sorted out," Toussaint said.

Dan Madden, a mathematics professor, said in a typical semester, the math department fields less than five grade appeals. Madden estimated fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent result in a grade change.

"They range from reasonable disagreements about the interpretation of grading policies to totally frivolous requests for higher grades," Madden said. "Most, unfortunately, can be classified in the second category."

Before students can file a grade appeal, they must discuss their concerns with the course instructor.

If there is still a discrepancy regarding the grade after a student talks with their instructor, the student must inform the instructor they intend to file a grade appeal, then fill out a grade appeal form in the college dean's office within the first five weeks of the semester.

Within two weeks of the file, the instructor is expected to respond to the student, explaining their grading procedure and answers to other student concerns in writing. If the situation is still not resolved, the student should submit a written appeal to the department head in the following week.

The department head, who cannot change a grade, will review the student's statement and may or may not recommend a grade change. However, the instructor has the authority to reject the department head's recommendation.

If the student is still dissatisfied, he or she has the option of submitting a written appeal to the college dean.

Vern Johnson, associate dean for the College of Engineering and Mines said he does not have records of how many students filed a grade appeal because the appeal process is designed in such a manner that, generally, the teacher and student reach a solution before the committee is called.

After an appeal is submitted to the dean, a grade appeal committee will review the case. The committees, which are created by each college dean, are made up of five members: three faculty representatives and two students.

Each committee determines its own set of rules, such as when to meet with the student and instructor, how to review the appeal, and whether they will interview third parties, according to the UA Academic Policies Catalog.

The committee then makes a written recommendation, and the dean will make the final decision about the student's grade.

Drew Milsom, a professor of physics who sat on a grade appeal committee for three years, said his committee never met since only a limited number of appeals ever reach the committee.

Although the process, which may take up to 15 weeks, is exhaustive, it is tedious to make it fair to both students and instructors, McGrath said.

Grade appeals are not made for students who just believe they deserve higher grades, but are intended to benefit students with legitimate grade issues, Johnson said.

Eric Hayot, an assistant professor of English, said he encourages students to talk to him if they are concerned about grades, but said it is frustrating when students approach professors for the sole purpose of getting a higher grade.

"A good way to start the conversation is, 'How can I do better next time?'" Hayot said.

But Adriane Hooper, a biology senior, said she is reluctant to discuss her grades with professors because some instructors hint that students' grades may end up lower upon closer evaluation if they find additional mistakes.

"I shouldn't have to be intimidated," Hooper said. "But they threaten to lower your grade."

Toussaint said although few appeals result in a grade change, the grade appeal option is a necessary avenue for students to express concerns.

"In practice, their success rate isn't very high," Toussaint said. "But every now and then, something really does go wrong and there should be a way to fix it."

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