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Most instructors would agree that potential employers don’t want to see grades; they want to see stellar portfolios. Nevertheless, while we can acknowledge that grades are imperfect indicators of students’ skills, they also have huge bearing on students’ ability to stay in school and complete a competitive portfolio.

Grades, coupled with specific, constructive feedback, are an important tool for communicating to students how successfully they are meeting the course learning outcomes. Grades are also useful indicators of when a student needs additional help, and they can function as conversation starters for how to get students back on track.

At the same time, it can be maddening for instructors to see students obsess over grades instead of taking the time to produce quality work. Instead of applying critical and creative skills, many students fall into the trap of trying to please their instructors to get good grades. Paradoxically, when students focus on pleasing their teachers at the expense of developing and applying skills, their work — and their grades — suffer.

It is our responsibility to implement a grading system that is honest, fair, and transparent, while also being sensitive to the importance of grades in students’ lives. This page offers some suggestions.

Help students shift their focus from getting to earning good grades.

  1. Remind students that grades do not reflect them as a person or their innate abilities. Some terrific people get poor grades and vice versa. If students perform below their abilities, their grades will reflect their performance, not their potential.
  • Demonstrate that grades are a reflection of their work, not your whim or opinion. Develop a grading rubric. Then engage students in the grading process. Ask them to review the criteria outlined in your rubric to assign themselves a grade.
  • Clarify that you are using professional standards to evaluate their work. Perseverance, although certainly important, is not enough to earn A's and B's. Show students examples of A, B, C, D, and F work to demonstrate your meaning of professional standards. If you want to recognize perseverance in your grades, make a clear distinction between "working skills" and the quality of the work itself. (Rubrics can help with this.)
  • Train yourself to de-emphasize grades in the way you talk about assignments. Say, "The next project gives you a chance to develop your professional skills" instead of "You'll get an A if you present your work professionally." The more you emphasize grades, the more extrinsic motivation you foster. Studies show that people work harder and enjoy themselves more when they are intrinsically motivated.
  • Think twice before offering extra credit to raise a grade. Explain that quantity does not make up for poor quality. Some students look for extra credit opportunities to gain points and raise their grades without attention to raising the quality of their work.

Be sensitive to how grades can affect students' lives inside and outside the Academy.

  • First year students with grade point averages (GPAs) under 1.7 (C-) are put on academic probation. Sophomores with GPAs under 1.85 go on academic probation. Juniors, seniors and graduate students must maintain a 2.0 GPA to avoid academic probation.
  • During the second semester of academic probation they are no longer eligible for financial aid, according to school policy.
  • If students get poor grades (below C- semester average) while on academic probation they are academically dismissed from the Academy.
  • If international students are academically dismissed from the Academy, they also lose their visas and must immediately leave the country.
  • International students cannot drop classes, even if they are failing. They must retain full time status or they lose their visas immediately.
  • Student athletes must maintain a C average in order to participate in sports.
  • Most scholarships have specific GPA requirements.
  • Students who receive below a C- in their major classes must repeat them and pay again.

When students complain, "I will get dismissed from school; My parents will stop the funds; I will lose my scholarship", they are not being irrational. Acknowledge their stress, provide as much written explanation for their grade as possible, and refocus their attention on the goals of your class. Refer students who need extra help to the ARC / OSAS to strengthen their study skills.

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