Revised grading policy enters final stages

Changes to the policy include shortening the deadline for incompletes and clarifying “A-F” grading scales.

Illustrated by Jane Borstad

Illustrated by Jane Borstad

Austen Macalus

Following a year-long review, changes to the University of Minnesota’s grading policy could go into effect as early as next semester. 

The revised policy — the University’s official guidelines for student grades, GPAs and transcripts — entered its final stages after the standard 30-day public comment period ended last week. The Senate Committee on Educational Policy, which looked at the policy over the course of the past year, approved revisions last spring. 

Changes to system-wide policy aim to increase clarity and consistency across the University, said Stacey Tidball, director of continuity and compliance for Academic Support Resources at the University.

“Coursework and grading is the the core of what we do at the University, so we want clear and understandable rules,” she said. “We need consistent rules of the road.”

The most significant adjustment shortens the deadline for incomplete coursework, which is assigned to students who can’t finish the course due to extraordinary circumstances.

Under the new rule, students would have a semester, rather than a year, to complete work before they would receive an “F” for the course. 

The year-long deadline was too long, said SCEP Chair Jennifer Goodnough, which presented challenges for students and faculty alike. 

“We were finding that sometimes … an instructor would be gone before the incomplete was done,” she said. 

The new policy helps reinforce that incompletes are reserved for students who have already completed most of a course.

“We wanted to send a message in a lot of ways,” Goodnough said. “The expectation is there’s not a lot of work left in the course if you’re giving an incomplete.”

She said students and faculty are allowed to work out another deadline, if needed.

“Ideally, students are resolving it and that deadline never comes into play,” she said.  

The revised policy also limits the use of placeholder grades, “X” and “K,” to approved courses. 

“X” is generally used for two-part courses that take place over consecutive semesters as a placeholder grade until the entire course is complete. For example, an instructor in a two-semester course would assign an “X” after the first semester and retroactively assign a letter grade after the second semester. 

“K” is used as a placeholder when a course involves some work that extends past the semester, such as certain courses involving a practicum or internship. 

The stricter guidelines are meant to ensure instructors use placeholders correctly and students are aware of such courses, Goodnough said.

“The idea was that we would be keeping a more careful look on [courses] … making sure people were using the right [placeholder] at the right time,” she said. 

Other changes to the policy focus on commonly used grading scales, helping clarify descriptions of “A-F” grade letters, an issue raised by chemistry professor Kenneth Leopold to SCEP last year. 

Leopold said the way instructors assign grades often differs from the way the University’s policy describes grades.

“If you look at the old policy, a ‘C’ was described as representing achievement that meets that course requirements in every respect … I don’t think that’s generally the way people understand what a ‘C’ is,” Leopold said. “It was much harsher than the way grades were given.”

Leopold, also a member of SCEP, said the amended policy language is more reflective of how instructors assigned grades.

“If anything it’s better for students,” Leopold said. “Nobody’s going to change the grading. It’s just more aligned with the way things are understood.”

The policy also distinguishes the “S-N” grading scale to clarify that it’s different from the “A-F” scale.  

Overall, Goodnough said the revisions will make it easier for instructors and students to understand. “I think it’s much more clear,” she said. 

Although most of the changes are relatively small, she said they affect one of the most impactful policies at the University.  

“There’s a lot of really important information that’s in this policy,” Goodnough said.