Grading Standards
Dr. Jerry P. Galloway


There is a common problem as students have come to "expect" a particular grade in a given course and grade inflation reinforces this expectation.  I do try to monitor and "warn" or "caution" students who are in trouble or having serious problems in a class.  I cannot and do not "warn" or "caution" students whom I fully expect to pass the class with a respectable grade (even if its not the grade they want).  Getting a B- or even getting a C certainly does not constitute being "in trouble" in the course.  Typically, warnings are unnecessary as students who are in danger of receiving less than a C grade and are, in that sense, "in trouble," already tend be very aware of that possibility.

It is a question of standards or levels.  The standards or levels have been compromised by many courses and grading practices in higher education and this is misleading.  I have seen many examples of  courses giving almost all A's.  I have worked with all sorts of students at all levels for 20 years and I know that a given class will not likely have 100% of students who are of the highest possible achievers consistently doing the highest possible work.  This practice has served to undermine and compromise proper grading standards.

However, I am not interested in making my students the martyrs for any kind of campaign for improvement.  I would not and do not do this.  While I believe I maintain a sense of reality in grading, this document is offered specifically for the purpose of edification and to place both students and instructor on the same standards with the same expectations.

In short, an A grade is for the absolute very best work in a course.  I consider a B- and up to be a respectable grade.  I understand if your ambitions lead you to desire higher.  I consider a C+ and a C to be acceptable but that most students are capable of higher.  I consider a C-, D+ and D to be indicative of some sort of failing.... probably not consistent or complete failure in any sense, but certainly would indicate some sorts of failings in the performance and accomplishments of a class.  I consider both a D- (even though technically passing) and an F to indicate a consistent and complete failure to meet the course objectives.
Let me explain further what sorts of grading standards I follow and what letter grades mean to me...
an A grade --- is reserved for only the highest quality work.  That's what the grade of A means.  This work would be good enough to serve as the prime example for future students to follow.  It would illustrate that the student went not just beyond the expectations but did so with a degree of independence with ingenuity, creativity and professionalism.  The work would perhaps not be free of flaws but all flaws would be superficial and incidental.  None would be fundamental to the nature of the product.  The product would likely include elements beyond that assigned - improvements or enhancements not called for in the minimal assignment description and maybe not even considered by the instructor.  In no case, can an A grade be given merely because students did what was expected.

a B grade --- is considered good.  This is an important point for those who always expect an A.  The grade of B indicates good work.  Obviously not as good as the highest possible work above, but nevertheless something worthy and respectable.  There should be nothing embarrassing or disappointing in this level of work as it has clearly gone above the average.  This grade would indicate not only that the student has met course expectations but did it well.  Too much trouble in completing the work or too many difficulties in accomplishing things within the course might indicate limitations for the student and could detract from this grade.  But more routine difficulties with challenges inherent in the work, met and overcome by the student would not make this grade unwarranted.  I would expect a mix of problems that might remain in work when completed.  Most would need to be incidental while there might be few problems that would be fundamental.  However, there should be no serious or drastic flaws remaining in work.  The grade of B indicates that the course objectives were all met and that they were met above a merely acceptable level - both technically and in spirit.

a C grade --- is considered merely acceptable.  It might even be said that this grade is minimally acceptable - very close to the line.  While most of the course objectives would be met, some might not.  However, the spirit of all course objectives would be met and any failings in meeting course objectives should be insignificant and merely technical.  This grade of C might apply either to (a) a limited number of things accomplished well with some below standard, or (b) most everything accomplished at a minimally acceptable level  - or a mix of the two cases.  In any event, work will likely include problems, some of which might be serious.  Work might have involved exceptional or extreme difficulties caused more by the students' limitations than inherent in the task.  In any event, giving a student a grade of C would necessarily mean that it is completely acceptable for them to move on beyond the course to subsequent courses or even to other institutions carrying with them a badge or ticket that they have completely passed this course - at least at an average level.

a D grade --- is considered both below average and generally unacceptable.  It might be that some objectives were met or partially met but mainly indicates that some were not.  It probably indicates that at least some serious or fundamental failures remain.  It seems too that the student can not move forward claiming that they have accomplished and demonstrated what the course intended.  Their work might warrant a technical credit and a technical entitlement to put it past them and move on.  They may have learned from the experience but the demonstration of that still retains fundamental problems.  Sometimes students can work hard and achieve this level for any number of reasons.  Sometimes students achieve this level merely because they have not put forth sufficient effort or maintained sufficient standards for the quality of their work.  Sometimes students can achieve this grade while working hard but perhaps find their abilities too limited by the time available and challenges of the work as assigned.

an F grade --- is considered a failing of both the technical elements of a course and the spirit of the course.  It seems unlikely that a student who works hard could completely fail at this level.  It is possible that their abilities, at least within the time constraints, are simply not up to the task.  It is also possible that a student, while very capable, simply does not apply their abilities sufficiently.  In any event, this grade represents serious and fundamental problems in the work.  These problems in the work are considered inconsistent with and contrary to how the work was to be accomplished.  There is a wide range of failing levels.  It is not a discrete or unitary status.  Traditional grading would assign an F to both a 59% as well as a zero% illustrating a range of failure.  The student may have learned many things from the experience and may have worked very hard in the process but one critical fact remains:  the demonstration of things achieved is still grossly insufficient, critically flawed and precludes even a technical credit of accomplishment.

an I grade (incomplete) --- technically suspends a summative grade for 1 year.  If not changed within that year it will automatically be changed to an F.  

I use an incomplete only for specific kinds of circumstances.  The following are NOT reasons or issues for getting an incomplete:
The following ARE elements that would contribute to consideration of an incomplete:
Some elements which MUST be true for an incomplete to be possible.
Once an incomplete is registered, the responsibility for completing the course is exclusively with the student.  If technical knowledge or skills are required in order to complete the course expectations, it also the student's responsibility to learn what is necessary.  It is also the student's responsibility to know what is pending for course completion.  The student must simply turn in evidence of all missing requirements, any completed work, etc., once finished.  I will expect that all evidence and work be submitted no later than 9 months following the end of the course.  This will allow the remaining 3 months for grading the materials and the removal of the incomplete.

It is important to understand that all work will be graded critically based on the standards and expectations of the course.  It is conceivable that the final grade could be very low if the work is deemed poor or insufficient on its merit.  The grade will be final and no further time or opportunity will be provided.