"ADVICE FOR GRADE APPEAL COMMITTEES"

Document prepared by Dot Goldish and edited by Lisa Vollendorf

May 2008

 

 

I. Basic Overview: Grade Appeals

The Grade Appeals Policy, PS 99-16, is the official policy governing grade appeals. Committees working with the policy often have questions about how to handle situations that arise. The advice below is intended as a guide to the implementation of the policy and should only be used to facilitate implementation of PS 99-16.

 

Grade appeal committees, especially at the department level, serve both as investigators and as judges. Each grade appeal that proceeds to a formal filing has some unique aspect. The committee must determine the facts of the case and then decide whether those facts justify a change of grade.

 

Committees should make every effort to decide appeals promptly. The deadlines allow for some flexibility, which in turn allows time for responses to requests for further information. However, fairness to all parties requires that committees endeavor to meet the stated deadlines.

 

All grade appeal information, whether written or oral, is confidential. (Section 1.600)

 

II. Pertinent Information for Making Decisions on Grade Appeals

A. Burden of Proof

Grade Appeals committees at all levels should review in detail Sections 1 and 2 of the Grade Appeal policy. Note that grades are presumed to be correct but that presumption can be overridden by the weight of the evidence (Sections 1.000, 1.100). The burden of proof rests on the student (Section 1.200). If the grade appeal committee agrees that the student has proved that the grade was assigned in a fashion that was prejudicial, capricious, or arbitrary, the grade appeal committee may change the grade. The new grade must be appropriate to the work submitted but may not be lower than the one originally assigned (Section 1.400). The decision to change the grade shall not be implemented until the appeal process is concluded (Section 1.410).

 

B. Interpretation Issues

Committees often ask how to interpret the meaning of “prejudicial, capricious, or arbitrary” grades. That is a matter for committee judgment; there is no official definition. See advice at the end of this document for suggestions to committees evaluating appeals.

 

C. Procedural Issues

Sometimes a committee determines that there was an error, such as violation of university policy, but that the student’s work does not merit a higher grade. Prior to the current policy, committees sometimes found that a student had not demonstrated performance appropriate to the higher grade, but still raised a grade to “punish” conduct by a faculty member or an earlier committee. Section 1.400 forbids that practice. Section 1.410 allows for the faculty member to ask for review of a decision by a department or college committee before any grade change is entered.

 

III. Initiating an Appeal

A. How to Initiate Appeal

To initiate an appeal, the student must present a written statement describing the reasons for the appeal and the recommendation for a new grade. Normally, the Grade Appeal form will have a space on which the student can indicate the requested grade. The student supplies supporting documents that show evidence of the alleged improper grading (Sections 1.200, 3.100).

 

B. When to Initiate an Appeal: Time Frame

An appeal must be initiated within the regular semester (Fall or Spring) immediately following the semester or special session in which the course was completed. This deadline applies whether or not the student is actually enrolled in the following semester. Grades for students who have already graduated can be changed in case of a successful grade appeal (PS 05-07). Therefore students may appeal grades assigned in the last semester before they graduated. As long as a student has filed a written notification of the appeal with the appropriate Department/Program Chair within the required semester, action on the appeal may continue during subsequent semesters. (Section 3.120) Because the initial steps of the process require consultation with people who may not be available at the end of the semester, the Educational Policies Council interpreted this provision to mean that a student who has filed written notice of the appeal then has 20 instructional days after the start of the subsequent semester to complete the Grade Appeal file, including supplying supporting documents.  

 

IV. How to Proceed after Appeal Initiated

A. Instructor Notification

The instructor must be notified of the appeal and given copies of all materials forwarded to the Grade Appeals Committee (Section 3.310.). The instructor may write a response to the student’s appeal and a rationale for the assignment of the grade, for the Grade Appeals file. A copy of such a response must also be provided to the student (Section 3.320).

 

B. Instructor’s Role

Usually the instructor provides the first appeals committee with a copy of the course syllabus and a memo about how the grade was determined. If this information is not in the file, the committee will probably wish to request that it be supplied. (Section 2.300)  Sometimes instructors provide a copy of the entire grade spreadsheet to show how the student’s grades compare with those of others in the class. If this is done, the instructor ought to blank out identifying information for the other students.

 

C. Role of the Chair of the Department or Program Grade Appeals Committee

Section 2.400 requires that all parties to an appeal shall be notified by the Committee Chair in writing of all responses and deadlines at all points of the appeal process and shall have full opportunity to comment in writing. The committee may consider only information available to all parties. Therefore all communications between members of the committee and either party to the appeal must be in writing, with a copy to the other party. Recipients of any communications have 10 instructional days from receipt of the communication to submit a response (Section 2.500).

 

D. Time Frames for Decisions

If either party does not supply appropriate grade appeal information within a reasonable time when requested by a committee, then that committee may base its decision on the corresponding information supplied by the other party (Section 2.300).

 

E. Confidentiality and Oral Arguments

Since all grade appeal information is confidential (Section 1.600), no one other than committee members should be present at committee deliberations, except when Department and College committee procedures permit oral arguments. The decision about whether oral arguments are allowed should be part of the official procedures of the department or college committee, not decided on an individual basis. Appellants sometimes ask that an attorney be present at committee deliberations; the policy allows that only when oral arguments are specifically allowed. If oral arguments are allowed, the committee should have a procedure to ensure that any additional information be made available to the other party (Section 2.400) and become part of the official file.

 

If oral arguments are allowed, the student may be accompanied by an advisor and the advisor may be privy to confidential information relevant to the case (Section 1.700).

 

Nothing in the policy allows for oral arguments at the University level.

 

F. Reports of Findings

Committees at all levels must prepare a written report of their findings and decision. Copies of that report must be sent to: (1) the student; (2) the instructor; (3) the chair of the instructor’s home department; (4) committee members. The report should indicate to either party how to appeal at the next level and where the grade appeal policy can be found for further consultation. The policy is on the Academic Senate website under Policies.

 

V. Next Level of Appeal

A. Right to Further Appeal

After a decision by the Department, Program, or College committee, either party may request that the appeal go forward to the next level. If such a request is made, both parties must be given an opportunity for rebuttal and the rebuttal(s) must be included in the file that is forwarded. If either party submits a rebuttal statement, the other party must be given an opportunity to respond to it (Section 2.400).

 

B. Time Frame for Appeal

Each party has 10 instructional days from receipt of the report or of a rebuttal statement, to submit a rebuttal (Sections 2.500, 2.400). When either party requests that the appeal proceed to the next level, the department or college should forward the file promptly, as soon as any rebuttal or response has been received or the 10-day deadline has passed. The file must include the student’s original appeal and supporting documents, all additional materials considered by committees at the previous level(s), any rebuttal statements, and the letter(s) setting forth committee findings and recommendations.

 

C. Tracking Appeals

It is advisable to have some method for tracking appeals at the department and college level to be sure they are forwarded promptly once the time for submitting responses has passed. It is very helpful to later committees to assemble the file with the student’s initial appeal, the instructor response, and the letters reporting committee findings at the top, followed by any rebuttal letters and the evidence.

 

D. New Evidence

Students sometimes wish to add entirely new claims or evidence as part of a rebuttal, or to add additional material after an appeal has reached the next level. Committees may have to decide whether new evidence is pertinent to the original appeal. Committees should enforce the deadlines for submitting the initial file and for responding to reports. The committee may, however, request additional information as necessary to clarify the appeal.

 

VI. Appeal Possibilities

A. Returning the File to Lower Level

The College or University committee may return the file to a lower level for reconsideration The rationale for such referral must be put in writing and may include matters of procedure or substance (Sections 4.230, 5.200).

 

B. When Does the Grade Appeal End?

The process is concluded when any one of the following happens:  the student provides a written notice terminating the appeal (Section 3.330); neither party requests that the appeal be forwarded to the next level (Section 3.300, 3.610, 4.100); or the university committee renders its decision (5.230). There is no further route for consideration once the process is concluded.

 

VII. Advice to Grade Appeals Committees

A. Basic Information regarding Appeals

Probably the great majority of student complaints are settled informally (Section 3.000) or are resolved in consultation with the department chair (Section 3.200). Therefore, the appeals that go to committees are likely to be the more contentious ones, either because the situation is not clear-cut or because one of the parties refuses to accept a resolution.

 

B. Interpreting the Policy

Committees have to use their judgment about what constitutes “prejudicial”, “capricious” or “arbitrary” grading. Although one can cite examples of obviously inappropriate assignment of grades, there is no clear-cut definition that a committee can use. In one sense, one might say that assigning grades in and of itself involves something arbitrary as one must decide what types of demonstrations of competence will be used in determining grades and also decide upon dividing lines between one grade and another.

 

Section 1.000 explicitly recognizes the authority of the instructor to use judgment about such matters. Committees typically look to see whether the instructor followed the grading practices described in the syllabus, and whether the syllabus is reasonably in accordance with university policy. Committee members may find it useful to refer to the policies shown in the Academic Information and Regulations chapter of the Catalog and to other relevant policy documents.

 

C. Department and Program Level Committees

The department committee is the most appropriate place to consider whether the grading practices meet the “generally accepted canons of the discipline” (Section 1.100) and whether grading on individual exams and/or assignments demonstrate evidence of prejudicial, capricious, or arbitrary grading and that those grades had direct bearing on the final grade (Section 1.300) Sometimes a student claims to have been especially disadvantaged by a problem that occurred in a course. Evaluation of that claim is best done at the department level. To help later committees evaluate the situation, it is important for the department committee to give as much detail as possible in its report of its findings and the basis for its decision.

 

If the report of the department committee is lacking in necessary details, the college committee, or the university committee may seek information to clarify the case or even refer the case back for further consideration by an earlier committee. This again is matter where the committee must decide which procedure will best allow it to make a prompt, informed evaluation.

 

Any further questions about grade appeals at any level can be directed to the chair of the University Grade Appeals Committee, who can be contacted through the Academic Senate Office.