Potential solutions for grade debates between students and professors

As the end of the semester draws near, grades tend to become a topic of consternation among students and professors. Students tend to worry about the outcome of their course work as it relates to their ability to graduate, move on or keep that ever-important GPA on the up-slope.

Professors, on the other hand, find themselves buried in grading, often wondering why we didn’t just show movies and mark attendance for 15 weeks. As we slog through the work we brought upon ourselves, students are questioning, begging and cajoling, all in desperate hopes of nudging grades just a little (or in some cases, a lot) higher.

I can’t solve every problem (or most of them) on the blog , but here are a few random ideas I have for making life a bit easier on all of us in regard to the grade debate.

Take them as seriously as they seem…

The “Peace with Honor” grade: I’m sure most students have failed to put in an appropriate amount of time on an assignment at some point in time. I’ve noticed this usually happens on essays or longer-form writing pieces, where the student figures if they pour enough BS into a Word document, the professor will decide to give them at least a few points.

The problem is that professors are often stuck when it comes to grading these papers, even with a quality rubric. We don’t know if you were having difficulty with the assignment, so we need to point out the errors in detail to help you for the next one, or if you just didn’t give a crap, so we’re wasting time telling you things you knew, but just didn’t do.

Thus, I propose a “Peace with Honor” grade approach.

When a student knows they are behind the 8-ball on an assignment, instead of BSing us to high heaven and having us wade through your BS, a student can write something simple like, “I know I should have dealt with this assignment better, but I’m not wasting your time trying to fake it.”

The professor, in gratitude, will fail the student with a specific amount of points (I’m a fan of 40-50%), with the idea that not having to comment on every stupid thing the student could have written will save time and defer carpal tunnel surgery.


The “I’m Better Than This” cease fire: In journalism, we care what you can do, not what your grades are once you graduate. To that end, many professors will encourage students to participate in student media to sharpen their skills and gain experience.

In more than a few cases, this is like encouraging someone to “just try” some cocaine so they can get a bunch of stuff done quickly. The students quickly become addicted to the newsroom and their GPA heads downhill like a stock market graph of the Great Depression.

Professors often start getting weaker work from those students because they’re running the paper or the radio station or the TV station. Suddenly, classes have become something of an fifth or eighth priority in their lives.

For some professors, this can become irritating because we KNOW you can do better at this work. For some students, this can also become irritating because they KNOW they are better than what the grades they get keep reflecting.

A potential solution is this cease-fire approach: I’ve told more than a few students, “Look, I get it. I once skipped six weeks of classes because I was dedicated to the student newspaper. I know why you’re disappearing like a kid running after a red balloon in a Stephen King novel. I also understand I’m not a top priority, so let’s try to make peace with this.

“I will promise not to ride you mercilessly about how crappy your work is in here, if you promise not to piss and moan about your lousy grades. We’ll get you through this alive, and once you end up running a professional newsroom, just make sure you keep your alma mater in mind for potential internship candidates. And don’t make GPA a requirement for successful applications when you’re running the show.”


The “One-Point, Death-Grade, Elevator-Pitch Shimmy” Approach: At the end of a semester in which we grade hundreds of papers across multiple sections and various courses, the computer will eventually spit out a number that correlates to your grade. In more than a few cases, that number will be riding juuuuuuuusssst on the line of a potentially life-altering edge.

For example, if 75 is the demarcation line between a C and a C-, and you need a C or better to continue in your program, you might find yourself sitting at 74.89. The difference between having to start all over with a course or be able to take what you’ve likely scheduled for next semester hangs in the balance of a professor’s attitude regarding rounding, grade-grubbing and the degree to which they want to tolerate you again.

Here’s the best I got for what I would consider “death grades,” the line between pass/fail, advance/retake or B-/C+ (It’s hard to sleep at night knowing you were THAT close to a B of any kind and came up short.): If you’re within a point or two of that death grade, we professors promise to tell you before we file. You have 24 hours to make up a 30-second elevator pitch that would convince us to buy your argument for a better grade.

If you use the words “deserve,” “worked hard,” “need this to graduate,” or any other whiny bull-pucky, you’re done. Gimme at least one or two concrete reasons that I told you were relatively important to this class that you learned or did that make you worthy of me shimmying  up your grade a tad.

My discretion in the end, but I gave you a chance.

And finally…


The “But I Tried Really Hard In This Class” Resolution: When your grade is somewhere in the vicinity of the Mendoza Line and you missed so many classes that I almost called in an Amber Alert on you , it’s kind of ballsy to make the claim of effort.

That said, numerous students do this every year, so here’s the best solution:

Good luck with finals and we’ll see you next time!

Leave a Reply