[I-U Logo] Human-Computer Interaction:
Grading Policy

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Contents of this page (last modified: Thursday, 7 September 2000)

Goals of the Grading Policy

Sometimes, students are disappointed at the result of the grading of an exam, quiz, or homework assignment, and they wonder "Should I discuss this result with the instructor and see if the grade can be changed?"

It's important to clarify the conditions under which such post-grading discussion makes sense. The goals are

  1. to make the system of grading as consistent, transparent, and credible as possible; and in particular
  2. to ensure that there is no disadvantage for students who, for whatever reason, are less inclined than others to engage in post-grading discussion.

The following are a list of arguments that (a) do not and (b) do constitute reasons why a grade may be reconsidered.

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Arguments That Do Not Justify Reconsideration of a Grade

1. "I interpreted the question differently from the way in which you intended it to be interpreted."

One of the purposes of learning is to know what people are talking about. The better you have studied, the more likely you are to understand the meaning of a question or assignment, especially if its formulation includes specialized concepts that have been introduced in the material under study.

In other words, your ability to understand questions on the subject matter in question is one of the abilities that is being tested.

And in actual experience, the typical pattern is as follows:

A question or assignment is not a legal document that a team of lawyers has checked to eliminate any possible ambiguity or alternative interpretation. So the fact that someone can find an alternative interpretation of a question that is consistent with the rules of the English language does not mean that a question was not formulated clearly enough for the purpose and context in which it was presented.

2. "What I meant to say was essentially the same as what you would have regarded as a correct answer; but the message didn't get through."

One of the goals of studying a given subject matter is to learn to express yourself clearly and effectively, so that people will know what you are talking about. An important aspect of such communication is the ability to refer to known concepts, principles, and facts, using generally accepted terminology.

Accordingly, it is quite appropriate that your ability to communicate in this way should be reflected in your grade.

Students who have studied carefully and who know a correct answer seldom, if ever, have difficultly expressing that answer. The argument quoted above is almost always heard from students who, because of inadequate preparation, were able to produce only a vaguely formulated guess.

The instructor will read an answer several times, if this is necessary for an accurate assessment. So if he still can't understand what you meant, the problem is not inadequate attention on the reader's part.

There would also be a distortion of the grading process if students were allowed to explain and elaborate on their answers at some time after the original exam or assignment: By then, they would have had time to get further information from various sources, so they would be in a much better position to demonstrate knowledge concerning the question. But what counts, of course, is what they knew at the time when they were originally supposed to deal with the question; and the only evidence concerning this criterion is what they originally wrote.

3. "The question or assignment was unusually difficult."

It is a generally accepted policy in educational assessment to include questions of various levels of difficulty, including some especially easy and some especially difficult ones. In this way, accurate grades can be derived for students on all levels of performance.

Consequently, the presence of one or more unusually difficult questions does not in itself constitute a valid objection, any more than the presence of some unusually easy questions does.

What is important is that the overall level of difficulty of the work in the course as a whole should be appropriate. This point is addressed in connection with Argument 6 below.

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Arguments That Do Justify Reconsideration of a Grade

Note: The following cases seldom, if ever, occur in practice. They are listed here for completeness.

4. "You lowered my grade because I claimed that X is true. But X really is true."

If the instructor's grading was based on incorrect factual beliefs on the instructor's part, then it should obviously be corrected.

If you wish to make such an argument, bring along some reliable scientific or instructional document which clearly supports your position, preferably from the relevant material from the present course.

Claims like "I once read somewhere that X is true" cannot be taken seriously: The source (whatever it was) may have been unreliable, and your recollection may be incorrect.

5. "You asked a question about material that hadn't been assigned for this exam or homework."

If the instructor mistakenly asked about some material that had not yet been included in the assigned reading or in the class materials or discussion, then this mistake should obviously be corrected - for all students, not only for the one who pointed out the mistake.

But note that it is often proper to ask a question that requires you to use some knowledge that was acquired earlier in the course. For example, you might be asked to compare Method B (studied for the present quiz) with Method A (which you learned about earlier).

6. "The course as a whole is so difficult that it is almost impossible to get a good grade within the time we have available."

It might conceivably become evident, toward the end of a course, that the overall level of difficulty was for some reason higher than the instructor intended, and that therefore the level of students' grades was unjustifiably low.

The instructor could make such a judgment on the basis of experience with many previous, similar courses. He would take into account the amount of time that students had available for the course in question.

If this case should arise, an appropriate corrective measure would be taken that applied to all students in the course (e.g., an opportunity to earn some extra credit on the final exam).

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Applying the Above Policy

It may prove necessary to expand and/or revise the above policy. Suggestions about the policy itself are welcome.

As long as the policy remains unchanged, it will be applied consistently to all students. In particular, if reconsideration of a grade is desired, the instructor will first ask which of the arguments 4, 5, or 6 applies. If none of them applies, there will be no discussion.

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Concluding Remarks

On the negative side, the conclusion to be drawn from the policy presented above is that it hardly ever makes sense to try to have a grade changed.

But the overall message is actually a positive one, whose truth has been demonstrated by many IU students in previous courses in the series on "Human-Computer Interface Design":

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