There is no official University-wide policy that dictates how instructors should evaluate students. Instructors decide the distribution of student grades in their courses based on their own policies. At the end of the semester, only the course instructor is allowed to complete and sign the grade sheet and submit it to the Registrar. If you’re TFing for a large lecture course, you submit grades for your section to the course head, who takes care of the paperwork from there. PTAIs receive their own grade sheets for their courses.
The Registrar informs all course instructors of the deadline for the submission of final grades each term. Spring semester grades for seniors are due 48 hours after the last exam during the Final Exam Period; all other grades are due seven days after the last exam.
Final grades must be reported as letter grades according to the system formally approved by Yale College:
A Special Note on Fs
If you submit a failing grade for a student, you will have to fill out an end-of-term report at the time you enter grades. This is your chance to describe in exquisite detail exactly why the student’s work deserves an F. Therefore, you should take extra special care to document all of a student’s emails or communications with you. In addition, photocopy failing papers and exams.
A Special Note on A+s
The A+ designation does not exist at Yale. However, if you have students who do truly exceptional work and by all accounts actually deserve an A+, then you should fill out an end-of-term report on them, too. In it you can sing the praises of such students. These forms are forwarded by the Registrar to the appropriate residential college dean and placed in the student’s file. The deans refer to these when writing recommendations for students or considering them for prizes or fellowships, so if you’re truly blown away by a student, consider taking ten minutes at the end of the term to fill out one of these forms.
Aside from failing your course or doing excellent work, you may have a student who fits a third category: “the student has neither failed the course nor done excellent work, but the work nonetheless calls for special comment.”
Special Marks: Credit/D/Fail and Withdrawal
Sometimes special marks must be reported to the Registrar in place of the usual letter grades. These marks, most of which require consultation with a residential college dean, include SAT (satisfactory), TI (authorized temporary incomplete), ABX (authorized absence from final examination), and W (withdrew). The Registrar provides additional information about these marks along with the end-of-the-term packet.
Beyond the ABCs: Credit/D/Fail
Undergrads may take up to two courses a semester on the Cr/D/Fail option, and up to a maximum of four total during their Yale career. (This is known as “Pass/Fail” or “Sat/Unsat” at other universities.) All courses offered during the fall and spring terms are available for election under the Cr/D/Fail option. Yale adds the little twist of making grades of D-, D and D+ options for students who neither fail nor merit a majestic “Cr” on their transcript. Not all courses offer this option, but many of the more popular ones do. A course instructor has no way of knowing if a student is taking the course Cr/D/Fail or not. Moreover, neither a professor nor a TF may ask students whether they’re taking a course for Cr/D/Fail or a grade; students may volunteer this information if they choose, but you cannot inquire. For more information, see the YCPS on grades.
A student enrolled in a course as Cr/D/Fail may change back to the letter grade system at any point in the semester. Despite this flexibility, it is very important to give students appropriate feedback on their work from early on in the semester so that they may make an informed decision. However, a student who has enrolled in a course for a letter grade option may not switch to Cr/D/Fail.
Students who decide that their performance in a given course is insufficient may choose to drop the course. If this is done before midterm, that course will not appear on the transcript at all. After this date, the transcript will record a “W” (for “withdrew”) for that course. This is meant to be a neutral designation, but many students worry that a W will inevitably reflect badly on their performance.
Once again, in order to avoid unnecessary anxiety for students, it is important that you give feedback on their performance early on. If you can, issue your own midterm report or meet with your students individually before midterm to discuss their progress.
Midterm Reports on Unsatisfactory Work
Students should get fair warning if they’re doing so poorly by midterm that they’re danger of failing the course. To this end, the Registrar sends each PTAI or course instructor a link to a Mid-term Report form that must be filled out if a student is doing unsatisfactory work (D or F level). It should be returned immediately to the residential college dean (or to the Registrar, who will forward it to the appropriate dean). Section leaders should discuss these cases with the course instructor, who may then decide to fill out the form personally, or ask you to do it. The residential college deans consult with the students and may refer them to the appropriate Yale College tutoring program for special assistance.
Late or Postponed Work: Due Dates, Dean’s Extensions, Temporary Incompletes, and Postponing Exams
No matter how much time you spend agonizing over due dates and stressing them in class, sometime, some- where, somehow, someone will miss a test or ask for an extension. In reality, you can guarantee that many will. Give careful thought to the due dates that you set for your students.
While you’re at it, you should also consider establishing a policy for grading late work. Avoid confusion by stating your policy on late work clearly at the beginning of the semester and again as due dates approach. During the semester, granting extensions is usually done on an individual basis at your discretion, but on some occasions a student’s residential college dean may intervene with a Dean’s Extension.
Here’s how it works: if the need for an extension arises, students will generally approach the instructor first. However, in certain cases—illness, family emergency, observance of religious holidays, and “specific intercollegiate events”—a residential college dean may give permission for a student to make up missed work. In these cases, the student speaks to the dean and gives the instructor (or the TF) the form commonly known as a Dean’s Extension.
You must honor these extensions and cannot penalize late work accompanied by them. The extension will specify a new due date for the missed work. Deans normally only grant such extensions in the circumstances listed above. However, with fourteen different residential college deans, there will inevitably be some variation in how an individual dean interprets these guidelines.
While the Dean’s Extension is designed to save you and the professor from having to collect doctor’s notes and letters about family emergencies, having a student hand you a Dean’s Extension can feel intrusive. However, it helps to keep in mind that the deans are professionals and have access to student information that you don’t have.
If you don’t understand the nature or validity of the extension, it’s important to talk to your instructor or course head, and maybe even to contact the dean a call yourself. In the absence of a Dean’s Extension, you may still want to call or email the college dean for guidance.
It should be noted that Dean’s Extension are only for written work and never for absences.
Temporary Incomplete (TI): You Aren’t Authorized
When deciding on due dates for assignments, remember that no work (including term papers) should be due after the first day of the Final Examination Period. As an instructor, you may decide to accept work handed in during this period. However, you may under no circumstances extend a deadline past the end of a term.
If a serious illness or family emergency arises, a residential college dean may allow a student to submit work after the term finishes. The dean will report a mark of Temporary Incomplete to the Registrar and notify the instructor of the situation and the date on which the student’s work will be due (usually no more than one month beyond the starting date of final exams).
Once the work has been made up, the instructor reports the final grade to the Registrar, who removes the Temporary Incomplete from the transcript and replaces it with the final grade. If the work is not handed in by the due date, the instructor calculates a grade that reflects the absence of the missing work and reports this to the Registrar; otherwise, the Registrar will convert the Temporary Incomplete to an F. Any kind of Incomplete that has not been authorized by the dean will be recorded as an F by the Registrar.
One final note: a Temporary Incomplete applies only to work postponed after the end of a term, not to students who miss a final exam.
Postponing Final Exams: You Can’t Do That Either
Postponing a final exam can be authorized only by a residential college dean. This may be done for the usual reasons (illness, family emergency, religious holiday, or “certain intercollegiate varsity athletic events”), but also if a student has three finals scheduled during the first two days of Final Examination Period or three finals scheduled consecutively.
What does “consecutively” mean? Exams are scheduled at three times during the day: 9am, 2pm, and 7pm. Three exams on the same day are obviously consecutive, but so are a 2pm and 7pm exam on Tuesday and a 9am on Wednesday.
The grade assigned in these cases is an ABX (Authorized Absence from Final Examination). Instructors proctor make-up final exams.
Changing a Term Grade
A grade cannot be changed once it’s submitted to the Registrar except by action of the Yale College Committee on Honors and Academic Standing, unless the submitted grade was due to a clerical error or miscalculation on the part of the instructor. In such a case, only a course instructor (not a TF) may submit a corrected grade.
Attendance: Be There or Be Cut
There is no University-wide policy on attendance, no minimum number of classes that students are required to attend. Students are expected to show up “regularly.” Individual instructors, however, are allowed—and encouraged—to require attendance, and some departments and courses do have their own requirements. If attendance is mandatory, you should state this clearly at the beginning of the semester, and then follow up on any punitive measures you threaten.
Talk to chronically absent students as soon as you notice the problem. If the absences continue, discuss the problem with the course instructor and, if necessary, contact the student’s residential college dean. Students who are consistently absent from a course may be placed on Cut Restriction in that course or in all of their courses. A student on Cut Restriction who continues to be absent from a course may, with the concurrence of the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing, be excluded from said course without credit.
Returning Graded Work
All graded work and calculated grades should be given directly to the student. Posting grades on the web (except Canvas) or outside your office is not only a breach of the students’ privacy, but is also a federal offense. Seriously. Even posting grades by Social Security number or some other “anonymous” means is unacceptable. If you can’t hand back graded work personally, leave the assignments or exams with someone who can (another member of your department, for example). Don’t leave stacks of blue books lying around for anyone to peruse.
Academic Dishonesty (Cheating)
Academic dishonestycan be a strong temptation for the over-stressed, under-slept student. Luckily, most students resist the temptation, but a few do not. All undergraduates receive copies of the First-Year Handbook; they are also introduced to the Writing Center and its web site — all of which provide them with the rules, regulations, and punishments. What follows is a summary of the rules on academic dishonesty.
Yale College provides the following definitions for Academic Dishonesty:
- Handing in the same paper for two different courses without the express permission of the instructors of both courses.
- Cheating on a test, exam, or any other assignment.
- Plagiarism of any kind, including the submission of another person’s work as one’s own.
- Fabricating or misrepresenting the results of any scientific experiment.
Students are well aware of these rules, but there are ways to reduce any further confusion. Always proctor tests and exams carefully. If space allows, make students sit with one empty seat between them. All take-home exams and exercises should state in writing how they should be completed, and, if collaboration is allowed, to what extent. All syllabi should contain a statement about plagiarism; in fact, Dean Mary Miller recommends the following:
Please tell your students, in your syllabi and verbally:
- You need to cite all sources used for papers, including drafts of papers, and repeat the reference each time you use the source in your written work.
- You need to place quotation marks around any cited or cut-and-pasted materials, IN ADDITION TO footnoting or otherwise marking the source.
- If you do not quote directly – that is, if you paraphrase – you still need to mark your source each time you use borrowed material. Otherwise you have plagiarized.
- It is also advisable that you list all sources consulted for the draft or paper in the closing materials, such as a bibliography or roster of sources consulted.
- You may not submit the same paper, or substantially the same paper, in more than one course. If topics for two courses coincide, you need written permission from both instructors before either combining work on two papers or revising an earlier paper for submission to a new course.
If you suspect that one of your students has been academically dishonest, speak to the course instructor immediately. Be prepared to supply evidence. For the sake of fairness, under no circumstances should you try to resolve a matter of this kind privately with the student. If the allegation of dishonesty is clearly warranted, the course instructor will refer the matter to the Executive Committee. The committee will then proceed with a full investigation.
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommedation are not simply doing your students a favor. It is (believe it or not) your responsibility to write letters for your students if they request them. It’s all a part of learning to be an educator, and a way for you to contribute to the advancement of the Academy.
That’s not to say that you should feel compelled to write a letter for the student who came to section twice the whole semester. As a teaching fellow, you are in the privileged position of knowing your students on an academic, and even personal, level. Consider this: the professor with 500 students in her lecture probably has little to say about the first-year in the twentieth row. You, on the other hand, can truly make a difference. So, make sure that you do actually know this student well enough to write something sincere. Then sit down and think about what you want to write. While there is no perfect formula or model, you may want to keep the following in mind while you’re deep in thought:
- You should state how you know the student (let’s call him Boethius), and for how long.
- You should discuss Boethius’ academic performance, but also include what you know about his academic strengths in general: Was he always prepared? Focused? Unusually perceptive? Well-versed in the subject? Did he show signs of progress throughout the semester? Was he willing to work hard?
- Keep Boethius’ personality in mind as well: Was he considerate of you and the other students in the section? Did he work well with others? Show strong leadership abilities?
- Try to back up anything you say with concrete examples.
- Make sure that you know for whom the letter is destined. A letter for graduate school should not be the same as one for a summer internship.
- Only write what you know about students.
Students might also ask you to write letters for their residential college files. These files and letters are consulted by the residential college deans when they are writing recommendations and are forwarded to others at the request of students. Students should provide you with the appropriate forms, which you should send directly to the dean’s office.