Failing Grades

Striving to Learn. Nearly every college or university student, at some point, in some course or program, fears failure. That fear of a failing grade isn't a personal defect. It is instead part and parcel of an educational program. Schools design courses to challenge students. Schools deliberately push students into what educators call the zone of proximal development, meaning that region is just beyond the student's reach so that the student grows in knowledge, skill, and maturity. One must initially feel at least a little lost and confused if one is to acquire the knowledge and master the skills that are just beyond one's reach but clearly achievable. That uncomfortable sense of disorder, and the equal sense of striving to push through it, are simply critical parts of learning. Colleges and universities wouldn't be fulfilling their roles if they only taught students what students already know. That's neither teaching nor learning. Every student should face appropriate challenges, even steep challenges that sometimes produce a fear of failure. If you face those challenges, don't feel that something is necessarily wrong. It may simply be an important part of your higher education.

Measuring Mastery. If learning requires striving, it also requires assessment. Colleges and universities can't simply rubber-stamp a student's credentials. Schools must measure student competence against professional, field, and industry standards. If, for instance, an engineering firm requires graduates to know material properties, then the college or university that certifies those graduates to the firm had better have confirmed that the graduates learned those properties. Instructors measure student progress and performance using examinations, tests, quizzes, papers, projects, and other academic work. And they generally attempt to measure student performance against objective standards that their profession, field, or industry establishes. Indeed, federal statute and federal regulation require schools to have academic progress policies, like the one at the University of Cincinnati, including minimum grade standards. You can't graduate from your college or university without demonstrating that you have acquired the requisite knowledge, skills, and ethics. That's an important role that grades play in your education. Respect the grading process and its institutional role and necessity.

Failing at Mastery. The problem, though, is that when some students don't meet the mastery measure and instead suffer failing grades, the same federal regulation requires colleges and universities to apply their academic progress requirements. When students accumulate too many failing grades, the school must place the student on academic probation or dismiss the student. Striving to learn is one thing. Repeatedly failing to learn is another. Schools and instructors expect and plan for a certain amount of failure, especially early within courses. But at some point, schools must treat repeated failing grades as evidence that the student cannot or will not meet the minimum grade requirements of its academic progress policy. If you find yourself receiving one or more failing grades, then you'll want to learn about your school's academic progress policies, including especially its minimum academic standards. Knowledge is power. Know your school's standards.

How Many Failures Are Too Many? A big question for a student who receives one or more failing grades in a course is how many failing grades are too many? The answer lies in your school's satisfactory academic progress policy, which may be very like the representative one at the University of Tennessee. The University of Tennessee's SAP policy requires undergraduate students to maintain a 2.00 / 4.00 grade point average. Graduate and professional students may have to meet higher grade standards. Thus, a student who earns several high grades, say A's and B's, but also receives several failing grades, may end up with a grade point average below the minimum. Although school policies may in other ways limit the number of failing grades a student may incur, these average grade point minimums mean that generally, the more high grades a student earns, the more failing grades the student may be able to accept without running afoul of academic minimums.

When One Failing Grade Is Too Many. Sometimes, though, a single failing grade can be one too many. Students whose grade point average already hangs perilously close to the minimum, say a 2.01 out of 2.00, can, with a single failing grade, find their grade point average suddenly below the minimum. If that shock happens in the student's last term before graduation, the student may not graduate. Ask academic administrators: it happens. One failing grade can be one too many. And of course, failing grades can be a genuine concern even when they don't lead to the risk of academic dismissal. A failing grade in a required course can require repeating the course, which not only takes additional time, tuition, and effort but may also delay other courses or even graduation. And failing grades can disqualify a student from honors, awards, scholarships, internships, employer tuition remission, and job opportunities. Failing grades can have many negative effects. Think carefully about whether you should address your failing grade through available school channels rather than simply move on with additional coursework.

Challenging a Failing Grade. Colleges and universities do often provide channels to challenge a failing grade. Generally, schools advise students to first approach the instructor who awarded the grade. Depending on the school and department policies and individual practices, the instructor may correct a grading numeric error, revise a subjective grade evaluation, or permit retakes or extra credit to prove mastery and remove the failure. The standard advice of school officials and academic advisors is to first work with your professor and your school's academic support personnel to evaluate and address a failing grade. If the instructor cannot or will not allow you to take remedial steps to remove the failure, and academic support staff can't or won't help, then some departments or programs permit grade appeals to chairs, deans, or other academic officials or committees.

Administrative Challenges. Beyond these academic grade appeals, colleges and universities may have either formal or informal administrative procedures for challenging a failing grade. Those avenues may be through accommodations officers, student deans, ombudspersons, or even general counsel offices. Some students may on their own be able to navigate an academic grade appeal, although outside help is often the wiser course. But pursuing these other avenues generally requires expert help, such as by retaining an academic administrative attorney. Consult national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm if you need administrative relief from one or more failing grades. Attorney Lento has the broad experience and refined skills to help you navigate academic administrative procedures.

Grounds for Grade Challenges. The grounds for challenging a failing grade are surprisingly numerous. Many students assume that a failing grade means incompetent student performance. But that assumption can be wrong in many situations. Perfectly capable, academically accomplished students sometimes receive a failing grade. Circumstances can also intervene, dramatically affecting student performance in a single course or collection of courses in a single term. Some grounds for grade challenges involve the instructor's assessment design, especially as to validity and reliability. Other grounds involve the student's experience or circumstance. Grounds for challenging a failing grade can include any one or several of the following factors, among many others:

  • invalid assessment design testing things not taught or course relevant
  • unreliable assessment design testing in ways that produce grade anomalies
  • inaccessible assessment design disadvantaging students with disabilities
  • missed assessments due to emergency or other exigent circumstances
  • incomplete or missed assignments due to student circumstances
  • numeric or administrative errors resulting in incorrect grading
  • student illness, injury, or trauma distracting from studies
  • family or employment obligations distracting from studies
  • death, disease, divorce, or disability in the student's family
  • competing academic demands in other simultaneous courses
  • unplanned remote, online, virtual, or other unusual instruction
  • misconduct or harassment by the course instructor or students

Why Grounds for Grade Appeals Are Important. The grounds for appealing a failing grade are important because grade appeal policies, like the one at Ohio State University, generally require the student's appeal to show a procedural error or unfair treatment in the failing grade. Many things can constitute procedural error or unfair treatment, depending on the student's ability to demonstrate accuracy and equity. Appeal results are largely the result of effective advocacy and thorough documentation. The advocacy and documentation skills necessary for good appeal results are peculiar, not generally something that students have. That's why students should have the assistance of a skilled and independent academic administrative attorney when pursuing a grade appeal necessary to maintain or regain the student's good academic standing. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm are available to assist you with a college or university grade appeal to help you preserve your educational career and future.

Grade Appeal Procedures. When an instructor can't or won't remove a failing grade, but the student believes that good grounds for a change exist, colleges and universities generally require students to follow formal grade appeal procedures. Ohio State University's formal procedures for an alteration of marks represent the common form and complex nature of these procedures. Ohio State University's grade appeal procedures encourage the student to consult next with the instructor's department chair. If consultation does not resolve the grade disagreement, then the student may appeal to a faculty departmental committee whom the department chair appoints. But to invoke that appeal, the student must timely submit a written request to both the dean or unit director and to the department chair. The student's appeal must demonstrate to the faculty departmental committee the procedural error or unfair treatment that warrants changing the failing grade. The committee cannot change a grade without giving sound reasons. Under Ohio State University's appeal rules, an unsuccessful appeal leaves the student with the option of requesting that the university strike the failing grade from the student's record for a retake if the student wishes. Appeal rules can be both vague and complex. Effective appeals to deans, department chairs, and faculty committees can be well beyond the capability of a college or university student. Get the help of an academic administrative attorney for your grade appeal, especially if your appeal needs to succeed for you to avoid academic probation or dismissal.

Academic Administrative Customs. These grade appeal procedures, and similar procedures at other colleges and universities, prove the peculiar customs that academic administrators share. Academic administrative matters are not like court, professional, or business matters. Instructors serving on grade appeal procedures, and academic administrators reviewing grade requests and appeals, inevitably have close, long-term relationships with colleagues whose failing grades students challenge. Academic decision-makers aren't like independent judges or jurors. Advocates trying to convince academic decision-makers of the justice of grade relief must be especially sensitive to collegial relationships. An appeal must honor and preserve those relationships while showing how removing and correcting a failing grade is in the school's, not just the student's, best interest. An experienced academic administrative attorney has those appeal skills and sensitivities. Don't take your appeal alone, on your own. Get the help you need, especially if you must win your appeal to avoid probation, suspension, or dismissal.

Academic Attorney Help Available. Academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm has helped hundreds of students at colleges and universities nationwide appeal failing grades to preserve their investment in their education. Attorney Lento's substantial academic administrative experience has given him expert insight into the norms, customs, and conventions of college and university academic administrators. Attorney Lento knows the difference between winning and losing arguments. No matter where your school is located or what degree program in which you are enrolled, Attorney Lento is available to aggressively and effectively represent you in your grade appeal or other academic administrative matter. Call 888.535.3686 or go online to tell us about your case.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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