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Student presentations were a part of my grading policy in one of my classes. I had a student who tried hard to get a higher grade in the class. But after his poor presentation, he persistently asked me to give him full credit on his presentation. I told him that his presentation was not good enough to get full credit. But he has persisted and persisted in asking for full credit.

The student told me that this is what he does in all of his classes. How should I deal with this behavior? He does not deserve the full credit he says he needs.

52

There are multiple issues here.

The first is a student persisting, pushing for higher grades. For this, you should see the link scaaahu left What to do about "grade grubbers?" If you continue to entertain this student they will keep pushing. Why would they stop? There is no cost and a chance for a gain. However, you need to be strong and clear. "You got this grade because of your performance. You want a better grade then give a better performance."

Second issue, which I think you mentioned (but I might be mistaken here) is students needing a higher grade than they deserve. I just dealt with this issue (again) this past month. The student (and even an admin on behalf of the student) were practically pleading with me saying "I really need a higher grade, I know the semester is over, and I know I did not do a good job, and I know I misbehaved in class, but could you pleeeaaaase give me a higher grade?"

When you encounter this second kind of issue remember that you are acting as a judge. Because of this, your decision is going to set precedent which will be held against you (and perhaps others) in the future. So, if you really want what is best for all students (including the one asking) then you must hold steady and show that students must do the work for the grade they want. Otherwise, they will think there is a way they can avoid the work and still get good grades and that is clearly not the signal we, as educators, should be sending.

In short, tough love and make sure they respect the educational process (don't allow them to badger you).

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    If you want to find a way to be forgiving, perhaps some sort of extra-credit assignment which will test whether they DID learn the material more thoroughly than their scores to date suggest. Or offer to give them an incomplete and let them retake the class next term. One of the things students have to learn is that decisions have consequences. – keshlam Jan 3 '15 at 19:53
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    If it isn't publicized at the beginning of the course (e.g. announce that you can bump your grade up by doing projects that show understanding), I don't think giving the student an opportunity to get a higher grade is fair to the other students, even if that opportunity requires work. – DCT Jan 3 '15 at 21:15
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    I suppose the second issue varies based on where you are — my experience in the UK was that one almost never needed a higher grade for something, one could just waive the requirement for that thing. – gsnedders Jan 5 '15 at 2:31
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    @Dtseng These students will soon be in the business world, where many things are said but not supported. If they just let go of potential contracts or sales leads or policy changes because "it wasn't in the initial memo" they won't last long. – corsiKa Jan 5 '15 at 10:41
  • @corsiKa I agree that students (and I) would benefit from learning to take initiative to find hidden opportunities, but I think there are better times to learn this skill, such as looking for a research project under a professor or finding and doing internships in industry. – DCT Jan 5 '15 at 16:01
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I agree with the other answers: "No!"

I want to address specifically grading of presentations. That can look very arbitrary to students, and the appearance of arbitrariness in grading leads directly to whining of all kinds.

Have a rubric for grading presentations, and supply the students with a copy of it early in the term, before they start preparing. A Google search for "scoring rubric for presentations" provides a number of useful examples from which one could start.

Make yours as granular and concrete as you can stand. So, instead of writing, "Information is presented in a logical sequence: 5 points," try something like this:

Organization of the presentation:

  • All parts of the presentation were in a logical order and build on one another: 5 points
  • Most parts of the presentation were in logical order: 4
  • Presenter "skipped back" to include points not mentioned: 3
  • Presenter skipped back more than once: 2
  • Order of points in the presentation was difficult to discern: 1
  • The presentation appeared to have no logical order: 0

This is a lot of trouble, but you'll only have to do it once in your entire teaching career. Have a rubric sheet for each student, mark the rubric sheet, preferably with comments, and return them as "graded work."

You may still get questions, but they'll necessarily be of the form, "I deserved a 3 instead of a 2 on organization." These are much easier to deal with, and quickly reach the level of de minimis.

Once I get to that level, I say to students, "If, at the end of the semester, but before I turn in final grades, you believe this item will change your course grade, I'll look at it again." No one has ever come back to me at the end of a semester with such a question.

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    This is very solid, actionable advice. +1 – fgysin Oct 23 '17 at 9:44
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It seems like the student has learned that "persistence" leads to success. Unfortunately, instead of learning from prior presentations on how to continuously improve his presentation, he learned to get a good grade by pestering the instructors. Given that your colleagues have given in, you are in the unfortunate position of disabusing him of this notion.

But I would not try to outlast the student in endless discussions, but inform him that you will not discuss this grade with him any longer. Because there is nothing to discuss. You have your reasons, you have stated them. A good student can learn from them to improve his presentations. His persistence in the wrong issue is not your responsibility.

8

If you have explained the ways in which he has failed to reach the standards required for a higher grade, then he should be mature enough to accept your professional, dispassionate assessment.

College is where childhood ploys of appealing for leniency should be discarded: hard work and rigorous application are more appropriate behaviour.

5

What do you mean "how to deal with it"? He's behaving like a child. Say "no" every time he asks. There is nothing else you can or should do.

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    I agree. And I'd even cut shorter: explain the motivations, say no a couple of times and if he or she persists, dismiss the student. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 4 '15 at 11:28
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    But when you say no, explain why so they learn from their mistake(s) and hopefully grow from them. – jvriesem Aug 15 '18 at 0:52
  • @jvriesem Indeed. My answer is predicated on what the question says which is that the explanation was already given in the first instance. Repeating it serves no value though. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 15 '18 at 9:35
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Core message: explain why he received the grade and where he lost marks. Don't just refuse to budge. As a student, I remembered that I found fuzzy and indistinct reasons for lower grades unacceptable. If clear criteria and well-reasoned arguments were given, I would accept, and never argue, even where the marks were bad.

However, I remembered to have argued to the end with a marker about a downgrading my submission which fulfilled the requirements of the exercise but I happened to understand that differently from those who set the questions (which, in fact, led to a far more complicated, but equally valid, solution). I would not let no pass for an answer here. The marker wasn't interested in the topic and did not exert himself to look outside his immediate comfort zone to look beyond the immediate task. I ended up getting the marks. I didn't care so much about the marks as about the principle. Had he argued that my solution was far too complicated and had lost marks for elegance, I even would have accepted. But he didn't, he just said it's wrong.

In another case, in an relatively intricate problem, the marker did not see the complications arising in the problem and marked down my (again more complicated) solution. Again, I went to the Prof and argued about that, until he conceded; again, the mark was irrelevant to me (and of minor importance, anyway) - it was about the principle.

I do not have the impression that this is the case in your example, but one should be prepared to concede if one made a mistake. But if you have good reasons for marking him down and you are not handwaving anything, state them clearly and close the case.

2

Rather than answering the question and repeat what others have said better than myself, I'd like to add a few comments for when people apply these answers when they encounter similar situations.

1) Context matters

There's a big difference between a student who shamelessly begs/whines for a better grade in all their classes and the student who did poorly because of something outside their control (e.g. assault). Insofar as we know the context of a given situation and have the power to be flexible, we must not treat all cases identically; doing so would be an injustice to the student.

(It's important to note that the above case is different than many (most?) other cases in that the student admitted to doing this in all their other classes. We can afford less grace for such a student.)

2) The approach of your response matters

Your approach depends on what the student is saying or asking of you. For the students who are whining for a better grade without any justification, a simple, yet firm, "no" may suffice. Other students may be asking why they received the grade they did, and then you should explain why. (If you do, a brief explanation is usually sufficient.)

Typically, your response should be clear and concise. If they have questions beyond what you said in your response, they can ask in a follow-up email. Avoid being too standoffish or defensive when it isn't warranted.

Be professional. Don't be overly congenial (which students may mistake for favoritism, or worse), but don't be antagonistic, either.

3) Compassion matters, but use judiciously

Usually, teachers do not know what baggage their students are dealing with. Some students are more sensitive than others, and they may need a more compassionate response.

It's possible to validate some of their complaints but still be firm. For example, it might be okay to say that you know the student is smarter than is reflected by their grade, but that they didn't demonstrate their knowledge during the class. In other cases, you could say that you know how hard it can be to balance two jobs and taking classes, but that the grade they earned is a reflection not of their overall effort in life, but rather just their performance in this class.

Avoid making judgments about the student's situation. Avoid blaming the student for their situation. If the student put themselves in their situation, you can let them learn from it without heaping blame on them. (I've heard stories of teachers telling students that they're a failure and should drop their program or major. This can be very damaging to a student's psyche. Even when warranted, this is rarely a teacher's responsibility to say.)

Also avoid being too kind or soft, as the student may try to take advantage of this in further emails, or tell their friends to do so in the future. You don't want to have the reputation of being a pushover.

4) Fairness matters

Be very careful about making exceptions for one student that you are not able or willing to make for other students. Everything else equal, making an exception for one student is not fair to the other students.

If you are willing/able to let one student make up some work after the semester, be sure to allow other students to do the same (barring special circumstances).

5) Precedent matters

If you decide to be flexible for one student in one thing, realize that you are establishing a precedent that you may be held to in the future, either by students or by your institution.

This is partly why rubrics are so useful: they set a precedent and expectation for graded work. If a student claims you graded an assignment unfairly, you can point out on the rubric where they lost points.

6) Knowledge matters

Know the policies and options at your institution, and know what situations fit with these policies and options. For example, some schools allow teachers to give a student an "incomplete" mark rather than a letter grade for special circumstances.

If you know that it's too late to change a grade (e.g. institutional policy), you can tell this to your student and point out that if they were concerned about ____ that affected their grade, you could have worked out a solution if they had told you before the deadline.

If a student persists in pestering you, it's good to know whether you are obligated to respond to them (usually you aren't), and to know at what point to report them for harassment.

Finally, if you really aren't sure how to handle a situation, it is useful to know where you can get help.

SUMMARY

Be clear and concise in your response. Be firm, but don't be a jerk. Make sure you take context into account when responding. Know what options you have in a given situation.

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Be forewarned, you may well find it all but impossible to dislodge said student from your office if they haven't gotten the "yes" they want. Even after telling them that you will not be entertaining any further discussions about re-scoring this assignment, and that any further appeals will have to be done as a larger conversation in conjunction with the department chair, said chair may have to be drafted to get them up and out of your office.

A colleague (/wife) believes one should go even further, advising recalcitrant students that if they cannot accept a well-meaning, legitimately-arrived-at "no" and leave, then an advisory that campus police will be enlisted may become necessary, but that has always seemed to me to be a bridge too far. (I know, I know, but I still love her.)

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Be firm. You explained that you don't feel he deserved full credit, the next step is to refuse to entertain any more conversation on the matter. If you continue to listen to the students arguments after having considered and made a decision, you leave the student feeling like if he makes the correct argument it will change your mind.

(Obviously, this is the course of action to take once it is clear that the student wasn't given a lower grade in error, and is simply pressuring to obtain a higher grade)

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