See Jane Compute

When grade grubbing becomes stalking?

I am fortunate in that in general, I deal with very few grade-grubbing students. Way back when I was a brand-new assistant professor at my current institution, I dealt with quite a bit of grade-grubbing, along with a host of other let’s-test-this-chick’s-authority shenanigans, from my male students. (It’s always been the male students. I’ve never had a female grade-grubber or troublemaker. I don’t know if this is just percentages—I teach many fewer female students than male students—or if there’s a gender component to it. But I digress.) As time has gone on, and as the students here have learned that I am a hard-ass really do know my stuff, I’ve had to deal less and less with the shenanigans, grade-grubbing included. Oh sure, there’s always That One Student in each class that invariably doesn’t like a grade he earned, typically because he either totally screwed up an assignment/test question or turned in a really half-assed attempt and thought I wouldn’t notice, and then uses my final course evaluation as an opportunity to complain bitterly about my unfair and arbitrary grading….but That One Student, if he comes to my office at all, will just come once and will go away rather quickly when it becomes apparent that I am not going to change his grade.

Perhaps my good fortune lulled me into a false sense of security. So when Persistent Pete came to my office after the first exam in one of my fall classes to discuss his grade, I didn’t give it a second thought. His first few questions were typical. I gave my standard rationale. In fact, as it turns out, I did make a mistake, thanked him for bringing it up, and gave him the points back on the question.

That, apparently, was my fatal mistake.

Persistent Pete apparently took this as a sign that I have no clue what I’m doing and thus it was his duty to question pretty much anything I graded. I dreaded giving exams back, because I knew that he would show up at office hours, wanting to go over his exam question by question, point by point. He was never rude or anything, but there was definitely a subtext of are-you-sure-you-know-what-you’re-talking-about to his questions. It was exhausting. I naively looked forward to the end of the class, thinking I would finally be free of the constant questions.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Persistent Pete is not happy with his grade on the final exam. Since the day grades were posted, I have lost count of the number of emails I’ve received from Pete. He asked for a point-by-point accounting on each problem. (Um, no.) He asked if he could come in to see his exam. (Sure…he can come to my office hours after classes start.) He asked if he could meet with me DURING THE HOLIDAYS (either Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas, I can’t remember which) to go over his exam. (Um, definitely not.) And on and on and on.

The thing is, the best Pete can do is maybe get a couple of points back. His exam grade is not going to change substantially. His exam was bad. Really, really bad. And even if I re-read his exam with an extremely generous eye…..it would still be really, really bad. But Pete will not be dissuaded from his quest.

So every day I open my email with a sense of dread, fully expecting to see the latest request from my new “pal” Pete. And I wonder if when this stupid, time-sucking, soul-draining saga will end.

Comments

  1. #1 ObsessiveMathsFreak
    January 11, 2009

    Just give him a final response telling him that the matter is closed as far as you are concerned and that you are not spending any more time on the matter (mention it would be unfair to other students). Finally, refer him to standard internal procedures for dealing with grades if he has any other complaints, i.e. he now has to talk to someone other than you.

    While there is an outside chance that he could escalate the situation by appealing to higher authorities, you just need to stick to your guns and your professional judgments (talk to a doctor if you think you have problems). If nothing else, it would be a good learning experience about grade appeals and processes.

  2. #2 John C. Randolph
    January 11, 2009

    He sounds like the kind of putz who’ll get an entry-level coding job in a large organization, and get punted to management once they figure out that he can’t do the work.

    -jcr

  3. #3 Matt Springer
    January 11, 2009

    “The thing is, the best Pete can do is maybe get a couple of points back. His exam grade is not going to change substantially. His exam was bad. Really, really bad. And even if I re-read his exam with an extremely generous eye…..it would still be really, really bad. But Pete will not be dissuaded from his quest.”

    If you haven’t said this to him in pretty much these words, that’s what I’d do. Follow it up with instructions that the matter is closed so far as you’re concerned, and if he has further problems take it up with the department head.

    The poor department head probably won’t be thrilled with having to deal with it, but at some point you have to save your own sanity.

  4. #4 Isis the Scientist
    January 12, 2009

    I think the only thing that may cure you of your problems with Pete is a real life “Come to Jesus” talk. This is where you say to Pete that he performed poorly on the exam. You believe you graded it correctly and that a point or two will make absolutely no difference in his grade. A more productive use of his time would be to *cough* sutdy *cough.*

  5. #5 NJ
    January 12, 2009

    *cough* sutdy *cough.*

    Or proofread ;)

  6. #6 Candid Engineer
    January 12, 2009

    Wow, what a pain in the ass. I agree with the others. Tell this kid that his exam was bad no matter which way you look at it, and tell him the matter is finished! You’ve already made up your mind, and a few points isn’t going to change his final standing in the class.

  7. #7 Chad
    January 12, 2009

    I wish telling students there is no possible way for them to improve their grade worked, but it doesn’t. Well, maybe it does to some, but not the pre-meds I’ve dealt with.

  8. #8 J the Econ
    January 12, 2009

    There is a really simple solution that will prevent most future grade grubbing. Agree to remark the exam and go over it with a fine tooth comb and remove any marks you gave in benefit of the doubt. If word gets around that grades can actually fall, you won’t get too many questioning your marking.

  9. #9 Female Engineering Professor
    January 12, 2009

    When Persistent Pete’s pop up in my life, I require that they submit their requests for a re-evaluation of their grade in writing. It requires a more legwork on their part, and I think reduces their ability to convey some are-you-sure-you-know-what-you’re-talking-about attitude.

  10. #10 Alex
    January 12, 2009

    A few people have suggested that Jane refer this student to higher authorities. If Jane is not tenured, I would not recommend this. Although it’s unlikely that they would hold this against her (they’re probably used to kids like him) the last thing an untenured person needs is an Official Student Complaint working its way through the system. It’s a hassle that should be avoided. Toss in the possibility that there’s somebody in the system who will, for whatever reason, sympathize with the kid or consider your handling “too rough” or something, and it’s not a good idea.

    Just tell him that he can come to office hours if he wants to go over the exam, because that’s what office hours are for, and if he comes to office hours emphasize the places on the exam where you gave him the benefit of the doubt. Also observe that he shows some significant difficulties with the subject and you are concerned about him. In fact, put in an email something about how you are concerned because he demonstrated some significant difficulties with the subject. That will (1) shift the discussion from him looking for alleged flaws in your grading to you talking about his problems with the subject and (2) if you have an email where you sound concerned about learning, it might just help you if this goes to administrators and this gets taken up by somebody who thinks professors aren’t sufficiently concerned with learning.

  11. #11 kt
    January 12, 2009

    I do what FEP does — ask for all complaints in writing, with an explanation of why the answer deserves more points. This usually results in deeper holes (“Well, I really tried!” or “If I hadn’t run out of time here’s what I would have written!” or deeply wrong stuff that then can be deconstructed) which makes grading easier. It also does seem to help students: some of them realize the absurdity of asking for points for work they didn’t do, and other realize how wrong they were. Some persist.

  12. #12 Jane
    January 12, 2009

    I wish it were as easy as saying “case closed, you did poorly, take it up w/ someone above me”. Believe me, I really wish I could do this. However, the few times that I’ve had an issue with a student where this was the correct thing to do, I got burned pretty badly (and my department didn’t do much to back me up, either). So until I get tenure, I’m reluctant to take that path again, and am pretty much stuck just repeating “come see me during office hours”. At this point I’ve stopped answering his emails anyway, because I’ve said “I will meet with you during office hours once classes start” enough times already.

    I do like FEP’s and kt’s idea of requiring grade change requests in writing—I think I will adopt this policy in the future. Thanks!

  13. #13 dan
    January 14, 2009

    As a current undergraduate, I second the suggestion of “J” to happily accept exams for review — provided that each will be regraded entirely, and that the new grade will be final (even if it is lowered). I would also strongly suggest that you disclose this policy in your syllabi. This seems to deter those students who complain about any grade below 100 (who would dare not risk a lower grade) while providing a fair procedure for students with legitimate concerns, which is especially important for large science courses where no work is graded by the professor herself.

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