Students who wish to contest a course grade must follow these steps:
First, take a minute to review the syllabus of the course in question. How did your instructor say he or she would determine your final course grade? Did your instructor consider absences or tardiness in calculating your grade? If so, was this information included in the course syllabus?
If you have all your course grades, plug them into the grading formula or grading scale, if available, to determine if your results are the same as your instructor’s.
If you don’t have all your grades, including the results of your final exam, semester-end assignments, or “class participation” grade, if any, then you’ll need to pick up those scores or course work from your instructor. The Code of Teaching Responsibility requires instructors to retain course work not returned to students at the end of a semester for at least one semester.
Once you’ve calculated your grade, determine if you believe your instructor has made a simple math error. If so, make an appointment with your instructor to review the matter. If the math doesn’t reveal any discrepancy, you can still visit with your instructor to seek clarification of your grade. You might find your instructor is missing a grade on an assignment that you can produce.
If the issue turns out to be a disagreement over the quality of your work, the going gets tough. After all, in the end it’s your instructor’s assessment of your work that matters, not yours.
If you are not satisfied with the results of this meeting, you can appeal to the course coordinator in a multi-section course or, if your instructor is a TA, to his or her supervisor. If you still remain dissatisfied, the next step is to contact the department chair/school director of the unit offering the course and then the Ombudsperson.
Can you file a request for a hearing to contest your grade? Yes, but only after first trying to resolve the dispute as suggested above. The "Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University” (AFR) provides for students to settle grade disputes using established department or school grievance procedures. (See also Grievance Procedures on the Ombudsperson's web site.)
But know this: In most formal grade appeals, you must be able to demonstrate to the department/school hearing board that your instructor used what the AFR calls “inappropriate or irrelevant factors” in determining your final course grade—instead of a “good faith” judgment of your performance. Such factors might include race, sex, or personal animosity. Grievance hearings also may proceed from alleged violations of the grading policy, as stated in the course syllabus. NOTE: You cannot contest a grade based on allegations of faculty incompetence.
To request a grievance hearing, you must submit a written statement to the chair or director of the department or school offering the course in which you received the disputed grade. Generally your deadline to contest a grade is the middle of the following semester you are enrolled. Before filing a written request for a grievance hearing, consult with the Ombudsperson for detailed directions.
One more suggestion: When contesting a final course grade, don’t ask your instructor for extra-credit assignments with the hopes of raising your grade. Also, don’t ask your instructor to consider changing the disputed grade to an I-Incomplete to allow additional time to complete missed assignments. Your instructor simply cannot assign more course work after the end of semester for the sole purpose of raising your grade, and absent a compelling reason, your instructor also cannot change a grade to an I-Incomplete once the semester ends. (See the criteria to qualify for an I-Incomplete.)
Finally, in challenging a grade, don’t lose your cool. Be polite and respectful.
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