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I read Academia varies more than you think it does, but in any school or university I've been to or heard of, students can always see how they were graded for any assignment. Or, at least, if the school won't let them keep it, but they will at least let the students view it (usually final exams).

I believe it's every student's right to know how e was graded on, well, a graded requirement. (see Dan Fox and David Hill's answers) The only exception I can think of is Educational Testing Service, which administers the TOEFL and GRE, but it's not really a school or anything.

Recently, my sibling was a little surprised with a grade on a paper and wants to know about how their particular paper was graded. But when my sibling tried to ask to view the marking of the paper, this was the reply:

Are you an exchange student? [University] does not provide marks to students after the examination. The only thing that can be released is the Grade or Pass/Fail. Giving you the marks would be a violation of the regulations. In fact, all such information will be destroyed after a period of time. You can try asking other teachers about marks, they will also tell you the same.

(My sibling is not an exchange student.)

Main question: Do/Should (see here also) students have the right to see their how exams were graded?

Some guide questions for the main question:

  1. Is this policy unconventional or unethical or unfair? Based on Corvus' answer to this question or Dan Fox's answer to this question, I kind of think my sibling's university's policy is unconventional or something.

  2. How will any student get feedback on their communication or their mistakes if they do not see any of the marking of their work?

  3. Is it unconventional, unethical or unfair to tell them to ask other teachers rather than point to the specific university regulations?

  4. Is it unconventional, unethical or unfair to not have specific university regulations on this matter?

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    I'll briefly point out (re: "How will any student get feedback") that the education people have a theory of formative-vs-summative assessment, which in its extreme form, argues that you shouldn't ever give feedback and a grade on the same assignment. – Daniel R. Collins Dec 22 '20 at 3:10
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    There was a note that some discussion is/was going on about this question. Where can I find it? I tried on Meta, but couldn't find anything related to that question?! – user111388 Jan 26 at 19:33
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    lalala said: "You can try ask other teachers...". I find this a bit dodgy. Why not point to the official regulations of the university. – BCLC Jan 30 at 1:19
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    Konrad Rudolph said: If this was literally the reply then that’s definitely dodgy, indeed. If the rule actually exists, that’s arguably worse: it’s a blatantly unethical rule that removes transparency, accountability and due process. Unacceptable on all accounts. And contrary to what this answer says, lecturers do not have to accept such rules. On the contrary: they are morally obliged to protest them. – BCLC Jan 30 at 1:19
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    Also if the university or representatives thereof actively or preemptively sought to prevent you from asking. – TLDR Feb 7 at 15:41
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+100

My answer is specific to India. This question was the subject of litigation which went all the way upto the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled (1 2) that the examinees have a right, under the Right to Information Act 2005, to obtain xerox copy of their evaluated answer sheets. This judgment is binding upon all institutions which fall under the purview of the RTI Act.

Even independently of the RTI Act, there is a general duty on administrative bodies to disclose reasons for their administrative/quasi-judicial/judicial acts. See para 51 of this Supreme Court judgment https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1304475/ which is a beautiful exposition of this principle. I would submit that this principle requires that students be given the opportunity of viewing their answer-books.

The above is from a legal point of view. But even from a general point of view, my view is that students must be shown their graded answer-books. There are multiple advantages for this : (1) Students get feedback on their understanding (2) If there is any inadvertent mistake in evaluation (e.g. marks totalling mistake, answer left unevaluated etc.) students can point out the error and get it rectified, (3) Transparency builds trust. Conversely, distrust breeds in opacity. It is not only important to have fairness in the system, but equally important for the system to be seen as being fair, and finally : (4) The academic institutions and systems exist for the students. The student is the one whose future shall be affected by the grades. It would be very unfair if the student is not even given the opportunity to see how he/she has been evaluated.

In my view, the student should not only have the right to view graded answerbooks, but must also have the right to appeal against the grades.

Disclaimer : I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. Views entirely personal.

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    I'm glad to hear this (and I agree with your observations/opinions). Although I'm in the U.S., I've been aware of some of these problems in India and elsewhere, and this sounds like an improvement. Thank your for your answer. – paul garrett Feb 8 at 2:39
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    oh wow thanks. actually this is perhaps easy to generalise if i know what kind of law this is. then i can look up the analogues in other countries. conveniently, when i look up wiki 'Right to Information Act 2005', there's a redirect message 'This article is about the Indian federal law. For freedom of information in other countries, see Freedom of information legislation.' Finally en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_information_laws_by_country – BCLC Feb 8 at 4:55
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    @BCLC Indeed, many countries have 'Freedom of information' laws. For the Indian law, there are lots of YouTube videos on its scope. I believe it might be true for your country as well. – Ishan Mata Feb 8 at 15:16
  • I would agree with your answer, except that I am averse to the idea of putting academic judgement entirely under government supervision, as though the government were itself infallible or less opaque than university administrations. I'd say that questionable grading procedures should probably be resolved internally, or by accommodating the interest and concerns of a weaker (rather than stronger) investigatory body. – TLDR Feb 8 at 18:12
  • @TLDR Thanks for your comment. But I am not arguing for placing academic judgment under government supervision. The RTI law in India requires that the universities should share the xerox copy of the answer-scripts, but no further. The university can't be compelled to re-evaluate under the current law. – Ishan Mata Feb 9 at 20:02
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+50

I doubt that this is a case of a student "offending" an individual professor and more one of rules in place that may not make sense and that you may not approve of, but still, rules.

I don't like, personally, such rules. I think they are wrong, but an individual professor has little actual control over rule making. They may not be willing to break the rules, especially if they are a junior faculty member.

Personally, I probably wouldn't give back final exams, though I did give back all others. But I would certainly let a student look over the grading. But I was bound by no such rules.

And, note that, depending on the scale of the institution, it might be very difficult to permit students access to final exams. When I was a TA, we graded Calculus finals as a group, with each TA grading only one problem. So, a student's grade was an amalgam of judgements. We were guided by a rubric, of course. But the professor didn't grade the finals and so might find it difficult to respond to exactly why a point (or ten) was lost. Smaller institutions can "afford" a more personal touch and usually strive to do so. It should be (perfect world) possible for larger ones to do so also, but often don't. And if there were a few hundred students, it is difficult to respond to individuals, just for the time it takes. Ideal? No.

Intermediate exams are a different matter, in my view, since they can and should be used to guide the student's learning. But, Rules.

And usually, by enrolling in a university, the student makes an implicit (at least) agreement to abide by the rules in place.

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    Not an absolute about mid-term grades v. finals. But seeing what you did incorrectly on a mid-term, assuming there is actual feedback, can help you improve in that course. Finals have a lesser effect. – Buffy Feb 23 '20 at 17:32
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    Indeed, there are many strange rules and regulations around. However one can always (try to) request the exact reference to the rule that is being applied. I found it amazing to see how many "rules" were plainly misinterpreted or just conjured out of thin air :-) – fedja Feb 23 '20 at 21:01
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    @fedja: For most profs, I would unfortunately not recommend to annoy them with those questions, especially if they will grade you later unanomysiosly. – user111388 Feb 23 '20 at 21:24
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    @user111388, actually it is impossible to predict why people down vote. I think a few people just downvote if the question doesn't interest them. – Buffy Feb 25 '20 at 17:51
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    @BCLC: Depends what you mean. I don't find it good or "how it should be", but I can certainly imagine a uni without a handbook. Good rulea should be therw, but I can also imagine a uni where most rules are "decided by a prof on the spot". There are even unis in the world where profs actively ask for bribes in the lectures. The world is unfortunately not fair – user111388 Dec 20 '20 at 15:04
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It depends on the country and university regulations. At some universities in Canada where I was, students could see how they mid-term exams were graded, but they had to ask to see the final exam through a formal procedure (which they rarely did perhaps because the semester had ended and students had left). But students would often ask about their homework grades to try to get additional points. All exams would be kept safely for a few years. Now, at some university in Asia, I have never seen a student asking to see their grades of the final exam (probably based on the regulation) and very rarely seen a student asking to revise to get more points for a homework (perhaps based on the culture). However, all final exams are also kept in a secure room in case someone would want to check again.

For the question (it is unconventional, unethical unfair or do students have the right?), I think it depends. It may be unusual in some countries but not in others. In fact, this is more of a university-level regulation than country-level or professor-level decision. Would it be beneficial for students to see their copies? I think it could indeed let student learn from their mistakes. But on the other hand, it could further delay the publication of final grades at the end of the semester and increase the workload of professors (as they may not use TAs to grade the exams) etc., so someone could also argue that there are some practical reasons for not allowing it.

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    There's a difference between asking to see how you were graded so that you can learn from your mistakes and asking to see them to try to argue over points. It's entirely possible to finalize the exam marking and then release the marked exams for student perusal, so that they can learn from their mistakes. – nick012000 Jan 25 at 16:29
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    @nick012000 But what happens if you did make a mistake? – Azor Ahai -him- Jan 25 at 18:02
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    @Phil ' if they spot some problems or inconsistencies in grading' --> why not apply that to all exams? :| – BCLC Jan 28 at 0:49
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    @BCLC I am not sure what you mean. But I think most teachers try to be as consistent and fair as possible when grading. But teachers are humans, so there can definitely be some inconsistencies in how a teacher is grading an exam, especially when grading many students. And if several teachers/TAs are grading, there can also be some inconsistencies. For example, I ever did an experiment where we asked more than 6 teachers to grade the same CS exam questions for a set of students and calculated the correlation. We found that there was some similarities but also some differences. – Phil Jan 28 at 2:57
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    Phil i mean you said 'they may as well use this opportunity to ask for points and if they spot some problems or inconsistencies in grading, the teacher may have to revise the grades. That's perhaps one of the reasons why some university don't allow it.' like universities don't allow because students might make appeals about gradings. in that case, for any exam, final exam or not, don't let students see any exam. why don't you/we/they do that? – BCLC Jan 28 at 9:45
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Phil's answer is aligned with what I believe is true: Countries (and certainly states or territories) could have regulations in place to indicate how this is done. Universities might have their own if the government doesn't impose any guidelines. And even professors might have their own set of rules.

I taught part-time at a university in Fort Worth, Texas for 8 years. I don't recall any bylaws given to me by my department or the school with regards to this topic. In my case, my syllabus was the law. In the syllabus, I indicated things like grade scale, whether or not a curve was applied during grading (I never used a curve). And more importantly, I ALWAYS gave graded papers back to my students. But that was my own personal policy to ensure transparency in order to preserve fairness. Doing so, I never had a complaint from a student that I was being unfair in grading. I did that because I didn't want to deal with the drama of students trying to protest a grade in order to gain that extra point that will give him or her the next letter grade. And even after all that, I had a time or two when I had to engage with students that will complaint about their grades. In the end, I always advice them to compare with other students to determine how "unfair" I was.

Also, in the syllabus, the school required all professors to include verbiage (or a link) to let students know about formal appeal process. And so, my syllabus always contained this information.

For me, the bottom line wasn't so much about fairness, it was a lot more to do with making my own life easier; especially since I was a part-time professor. I had another, full-time job that require more of my time and I didn't want to take away from that to deal with all the drama as I mentioned before.

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    @BCLC Why do you think it is laughable? When I lived in Germany decades ago, the government that provided "free" education basically forced students to make up their minds as to what careers to choose during secondary education because they were paying for that education. There was no "I'm changing my majors" or "I'm just going to take random classes until I figure out what I wanna do" like the common practice here in the USA. So, from that standpoint, why could not there be laws that force processors to disclose such information? After all, the government is paying for it. – hfontanez Feb 4 at 23:48
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    wait i think my response is now... – BCLC Feb 5 at 2:12
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    half: oh thanks for the info and insight. that's good to know the idea like governments pay and so would/could force universities to show grades. wish the government over here would/could force – BCLC Feb 5 at 2:12
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    and half: oh unclear. i was thinking laws to enforce the not showing or instead of the laws of showing – BCLC Feb 5 at 2:13
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    PS (maybe i can be president/prime minster. LOL) – BCLC Feb 5 at 3:01

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