October 27, 2011

My Teacher Gave Me The Wrong Grade, What Can I Do?

In the USA it is possible to contest grades given to you by your teacher.

It occurred to me that requesting a teacher to reconsider a grade can be and is a cultural thing. In how many countries or cultures would the idea of contesting the teacher’s ability to teach and grade be ‘acceptable’? Or, even a thought to cross a student’s mind?

To say contesting of grades is common in the USA is a fallacy. This must be done with careful consideration. I can remember only a few examples from my own life where contesting a grade was done.

The first example is not my own, but a classmate from high school. This high school senior wanted every mark so he could get into a prestigious college in US. He had already aced the SAT and ACT and now was saving every grade and chasing every point so he’d be close to 100 out of 100 or the perfect 4.0 average. Though in my high school we changed classrooms for each class, it just so happens the only class we shared together was the one in which he felt wrongly graded. This grade was not a gross injustice for most people. It was not a lack of 20 or 30 points but a ‘mere’ one point. This one point, he argued would make or break his scholarship to the college of his dreams. But, of course the teacher had a valid stand on the grade she had given him. This matter became a big headache for the student who involved his parents, the other teachers in the department and finally and most notably the principal and superintendant of the school. I knew a drama ensued. The whole student body knew about it. But only few knew the final outcome. I don’t know if he got the lost one mark, but he did get admitted into the prestigious intuition with a full scholarship.

The second example comes from my personal experience. When I was studying at SUNY Buffalo, I took a class in Asian Media Studies. In this class, we had to write a lot of essay exams. Though we only had three or four questions per exam, the main goal was to write the essays in a succinct way capturing all the points from lectures and text books and other references each student studied on his or her own (not provided through the class). I usually cited about four to seven sources, but rather than memorize and regurgitate, I would re-write all these sources in my own words and understanding, quoting whenever necessary. This style of test taking was common among all students, and so the teacher had to spend many hours reading every essay exam to capture all the finer points. Every student’s answers would be different. So, there was one particular exam I felt I was wrongly graded. I had a good relationship with the professor and decided to schedule an office hour appointment with him. Because it was an essay exam, he asked me to come to the appointment with the test paper in question and no other materials. He gave me an oral exam on the spot- or better known in India as a viva voce. After asking me the essay question from multiple perspectives and feeling confident I understood the material, he was able to adjust my grade. I appreciate this teacher for his open minded attitude and his belief in my ability to ‘make the grade’ with him.

So, if you are an international student in the USA and you feel you have been wrongly graded, there is something you can do to rectify this.

Of course, not all cases will end in an adjusted grade, but can offer insight into your teacher’s methodologies, teaching approach and even what he or she is truly expecting to see from you as a student in the grading process. It will truly be a cross-cultural experience.

Do heavily consider approaching teachers twice, thrice or more before actually doing it and don’t make it a habit. We have a saying in the USA; no one wants to ‘become the boy who cried wolf.’ If you are always crying there is a problem (wolf) and it turns out there is no problem, when there really is a problem, no one will believe it. So do take caution and precautions about it. Find out the typical process a student would take in your college by looking through the academic policy of your department or talk to your advisor or international student advisor.

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