Duking it out with professors for higher grades

Everyone remembers the elementary school days – getting back a test and taking a quick glance just to make sure that there was a shiny sticker next to the grade. Although the days of stickers may be long gone, the days of staring at grades remain.

Sometime between elementary school and college, students’ feelings about ever-present grades change. While it is doubtful many grade-school students argue their claim to a sticker, at GW many students said they often refuse to accept the original red number or letter grade.

Some students said they should have the right to try to argue their case when they think a grade is incorrect or unfair.

“If I disagree with a grade I’ve gotten, I’ll always go to the professor and explain why I think the grade is not accurate,” sophomore Ben Kostrzewa said. “It is possible that professors may overlook things, and I think to explain it to them is usually helpful.”

Kostrzewa said many of his professors do not seem to mind when he questions their grades, and they sometimes allow him to revise and resubmit papers.

“In the real world, you’re always revising your work,” he said. “I don’t see why this should be any different.”

Senior Tom Danielski said he feels if students approach the situation in the right way, he does not see a problem with trying to get a grade changed.

“If students have a legitimate reason to complain and approach the professor in a respectful manner, I don’t think there’s a problem with it,” he said.

Danielski said he took a class at GW in which the teaching assistant in his section seemed to use a different grading method than other TAs. He thought his grade on a test was too low, so he asked another teaching assistant to review it. His grade was subsequently adjusted, he said.

Sophomore Kristin Wardell said pleas for grade changes are all part of fair classroom politics.

“I definitely think students should be able to fight grades,” Wardell said. “Education can sometimes be very political. Professors have their favorites and their sometimes-biased ways of grading, so I think students should have an opportunity to counter this if they feel they’ve been evaluated unfairly.”

Some students said sometimes their classmates take fighting for grades too far.

“I understand students sometimes wanting to have a grade explained to them, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” junior Ben Carlone said. “But sometimes kids go too far. For students to believe they deserve an `A’ on every single paper is almost ludicrous, no matter how skilled a writer they are.”

Junior Laura Bonita said she agrees students should understand why they receive a certain grade, but she said sometimes they go too far by trying any and all means necessary to get extra points.

“Sometimes kids get a little too picky about getting a certain grade,” Bonita said. “I think kids who get an 89 and are searching for any point they can find to make it a 90 are just taking it too far. If you have to search for points, your original grade is probably correct.”

Andrea Tschemplik, an assistant professor of philosophy, said most complaints she sees come from students who receive a B+ instead of an A- or A.
Tschemplik attributes some of the problem students have with grading to grade inflation and the lack of University-wide grading standards.

“Some students don’t understand why they can do a certain amount of work in some classes and get an `A’ but do the same amount of work in others and not do as well,” Tschemplik said.

Other professors attribute students’ perception of grades to a nature of consumerism at GW.

Carolyn Betensky, assistant professor of English, said students who see their professors as service providers have every incentive to try to contest their grades.

“Some students approach their studies with the attitude that they are customers,” Betensky said. “So it’s perfectly logical that they should believe the University should operate according to the credo that the customer is always right. In a retail establishment, if the customer complains loudly enough and acts with a certain degree of indignation, the customer will get his way.”

Tschemplik said consumerism has become a large part of education.

“Consumerism has invaded education, but higher education should not run as a corporation,” Tschemplik said. “Education is not a business. Grades are not a reflection of what you pay. They are a reflection of how you work and what you learn.”

Tschemplik and Betensky said they do not mind explaining grades they give. Betensky said she understands why students feel they have to try to fight to get the highest grade possible.

“I have sympathy for students and know that students are under a phenomenal amount of pressure,” Betensky said. “Since their freshman year, they are pushed to go to career fairs and try to make decisions about their careers.”

The mindset that students have to work hard in school to land a good job explains their persistence to get the best possible grade, but it also hinders students from getting a true liberal arts education, Betensky said.

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