Disagree with Teacher about a Grade?

Suppose you worked hard on a writing assignment or other project and think yours is an "A" report. When you get your masterpiece back, your grade is a "C." Many students respond with anger or disappointment, but few do anything more to figure out what went wrong.

When you receive a grade that you don't understand (that is, you expected to do better or aren't sure where you messed up), or if your teacher has made a mistake when grading a test or paper (yes, it happens), don't just sulk and think that the teacher is out to get you. Don't tell yourself that there's nothing you can do about your grade, because there are things you can and should do. While a teacher may be uncomfortable when asked to justify a particular grade on a project, you have every right as a student to ask for an explanation.

For example, on a paper, you may ask your teacher why you received the grade you did, especially if the comments don't clarify why the grade was given. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Don't go into the meeting with a defensive attitude or with a chip on your shoulder. Instead, go in honestly seeking to understand your grade so that you can improve the next time.

  • Ask your teacher specifically what you did well and what you did poorly. Ask him how you might do better on the next paper. Perhaps you didn't read the assignment sheet carefully and didn't meet the requirements of the paper (which means the paper may have been well written, but was not on target). Your teacher will appreciate your efforts to understand your performance and seek ways to improve that skill.

In some cases, your teacher may reconsider the grade if you explain your thinking behind your work. Grading papers is a subjective exercise, and sometimes, you have a specific reason for why you composed the paper as you did. If you explain why you included certain material or why you organized the paper a certain way, your teacher may reconsider. Even if your grade isn't changed, at least you have a better sense of what the teacher looks for in that type of assignment.

Sometimes, teachers make mistakes when grading papers or tests. If you think that a particular problem or area has been scored incorrectly, share your discovery with your teacher (never hurts to have some supporting information on hand, such as the formula from a textbook or the quoted passage from a literary work). After taking a look, he or she might realize the error and add points to your performance . . . pushing up your overall grade.

Remember: Your attitude in approaching your teacher is really important. You want to foster a relationship of mutual respect rather than of adversarial opposition. Don't approach the teacher defensively and don't accuse the teacher. Instead, simply voice your perspective calmly and ask for clarification — and hopefully, a correction.