1. What are the easiest/best ways to manage record keeping for attendance and the graded assignments in my class?
Although there are multiple ways to do this, our learning management system, Angel, has tools that are very useful. It provides an online grading system where students can log in and see their class progress. Because it is online, you can access it from the classroom podium. That makes it easy to record attendance right into the grade book and at the end of class, stay for a few minutes and record class participation points. (NOTE: Make sure picture mute is on or else the entire class will see the grades!)
2. What constitutes an average grade, and should I grade on a curve?
While different colleges and/or departments may have different guidelines (check with your Associate Chair and/or Academic Director), the views expressed in the response to the FAQ below related to grading fairly are excerpts from the College of Business educational policy document (entire document available upon request to firstname.lastname@example.org).
3. How can I be sure to grade fairly?
Several procedures are listed below to ensure grades are fair and provide useful information to students, faculty and those who may read students’ transcripts (e.g., future employers, graduate schools).
Grades must be based on grading rubrics so that grades: (1) are tied to learning goals and assessment; (2) are assigned consistently and fairly; and (3) communicate to students standards of performance, and how achievement of a standard of performance translates into a letter grade. To this end, grading rubrics should be provided to students in advance of an assignment.
Grading must not only be fair, but reasonable students must believe that it is fair. Thus, make sure that outcomes are fair, processes are fair, and the process is transparent.
Depending on the rubrics used, there are many ways to define fair outcomes. However, perceived fair outcomes depend largely on one factor: i.e., does the received grade meet or exceed the expected grade? Be sure to calibrate students’ expectations at the beginning of the semester. For instance, show them the grade distribution from previous sections of this course that you have taught.
Research shows that fair processes are comprised of the following factors:
- Consistency of Rules: Rules should be applied consistently across students (i.e., nobody is “above the law” or favored), and across time (i.e., the rules are not subject to sudden changes). Use rubrics to grade more consistently, list all related grading rules in the syllabus, and don’t change the syllabus mid-semester. Note that rubrics should not be so tightly prescribed as to preclude any judgment; indeed, over-specified rubrics can backfire because it becomes hard to be visibly consistent with so many specifications.
- Accuracy of Information: Decisions should be based on accurate information. Make sure it is clear to students that you read their assignments by marking up the assignments sufficiently.
- Bias Suppression: A student might perceive that an instructor is biased against him/her personally. To suppress this perception, grade blind whenever possible. Ask students to put their ID numbers instead of their names on papers, so they know you are grading blind.
- Appeals: Grading decisions that are correctable make for a fairer process, even when students never use the appeal process. Make sure students know what your appeal process is. Please familiarize yourself with the WSU appeal process, in case your in-class appeal process does not resolve the dispute.
“Fair Process Effect”
As long as students perceive the processes are fair, they will tolerate the occasional “unfair” grade without complaining. So, be clear about your grading procedures.
Final grades should follow a rough bell shaped distribution (i.e., less in the “tails”) for undergraduate courses. The mean of this distribution depends on the level of course taught. For example, a 100- and 200-level core course might have a distribution centered on a grade of C while a 300- and 400- level elective course or course in the major might have a distribution centered on a B or B+. Note that the average WSU GPA is 2.9. Finally, note that you may or may not apply an explicitly stated statistical/mathematical distribution — your call. But if you do not, and students perform surprisingly well, meeting most all the standards spelled out in the syllabus, then your first duty is to award grades consistent with the syllabus, even if that means deviating from the above distributions. Should your final grades deviate substantially, you may have to justify these grades to your academic director.
4. How should I communicate students’ academic progress during the semester?
Angel, WSU’s learning management system (lms.wsu.edu), works well for providing students up-to-date progress on their grades. The university also uses an official mid-term grade submission for freshman and first-semester transfer students. Even if you are teaching an upper-division course, you may have students enrolled who require mid-term grades to be posted.
5. What should I do if a student challenges a grade I’ve assigned for an assignment or for the course as a whole?
See the FAQ above on grading for preventing and addressing complaints. If the dispute cannot be resolved between faculty and student, the next step is for the student to contact your academic director on this campus.
6. What are the appropriate circumstances to issue an incomplete? What is the process for doing so?
The incomplete is only given when the student is facing circumstances beyond their control that are prohibiting them from completing the course. It is not permitted to accommodate students who are not doing well in the course and looking for more time to complete assignments. Visit this link to find the Incomplete Grade Agreement form (PDF) that must be completed when the incomplete grade is awarded.
7. Managing Life Crises - Sometimes students begin to struggle academically during challenging family crises. What is the appropriate way for faculty to evaluate such circumstances and what can we do on the academic end?
Dealing with a life crisis often affects academic performance. If a student indicates s/he is struggling in several classes, you can recommend that s/he speak with their advisor for a holistic discussion of the advisability of withdrawing from some or all of their classes to have a more manageable workload until the crisis has resolved (doing so beyond the academic calendar deadline requires a petition accompanied by supporting documentation: Undergraduate Student Petition (PDF).
For life crises with less disruptive effects, referring the student for counseling services or to the resources listed in the “Academic Success/Academic Difficulty” section may be helpful. You can choose to extend a deadline or make other exceptions to, for example, the attendance policy in your syllabus based on personal judgment.