First-Year Writing

All final grades are submitted through the university's web system, via FASS ("Faculty and Advisor Services”).  During the semester faculty are contacted through their MSU mail account email to set up and confirm student rosters and faculty identification and PIN.  Be sure to respond to these email notices and follow through on them.  Grades can be submitted on the web anytime over several days, though the close date is hard and firm.  If you do not submit your grades on time, people get very upset.  Keep in mind that the deadline is often at 9 am, which is unexpected and easy to miss.

Final Grading Policy

  • Grades will be fair and consistent.
  • Grading will be in accordance with criteria and distribution detailed in the syllabus.  Students may not agree with the grades given, but they should be able to understand how each individual grade, as well as the final grade, is determined.
  • When evaluating student work on the letter system, faculty should take the following into account.
    •  A is for excellent work.
    •  B is for very good work.
    •  C is for adequate or average work.
    •  D is for below average, inadequate work.
    •  F is for unacceptable work, i.e., work that is not at the college level.
  • Faculty should also consult (and suggest their students consult) MSU's custom edition Hacker Handbook (MSU-9) and the program's grading Criteria for benchmarks and detailed descriptions of A, B, C, D, and F papers.
  • Distribution systems for determining grades (i.e., x percent for essays, y percent for portfolio, z percent for homework, etc) need to be designed with a sense of caution for grade inflation.  New faculty can find themselves with students who are regularly receiving C's on papers suddenly earning Bs if they are not careful in their distribution systems.
  • First-Year Writing courses are indicator courses.  Students and future professors need to be able to review these grades and have them be reasonably accurate indicators of students' writing abilities.  Now, of course, every student who achieves a B in a 105 class may not choose to continue that level of performance in later courses, but you may find this imagined audience helpful to you as you fight off the pressure to raise grades.  Students, quite reasonably, believe that the grade received is an indicator of their writing abilities and probable future success in writing.  When fall 105 instructors become spring 106 instructors, they little like hearing from C or D performing students that they "always received B's in 105."  So we need to work together to consistently and fairly assess students' abilities as writers.
  • While there can be extraordinary sections—very weak ones and very strong ones—in general, most First-Year Writing sections are comprised of the full-range of students who are admitted to Montclair State University.  Therefore, you can expect that your final grades will reflect this range, with close to an equal number of students earning final grades of C or B, and many, many fewer receiving A's, D's or F's.  If most of your students are heading for a B or B-, you probably need to revise your criteria—it's unlikely that most of your students are truly above average as that would more or less defeat the meaning of average.  B is not average; it is very good.

Description of A, B, C, D, and F Final Grades

Overall Guidelines:

To some extent, your class GPAs will vary from semester to semester, class to class.  That said, in general most students will receive B and C grades, with outliers receiving A's and D's—in other words, many more B's and C's than A's and D's.  The proportion of F grades is mostly dependent on how many students make private decisions to drop out (without actually withdraw) by not meeting expectations.  That can really vary, but is typically easy for instructors to assess.

  •  A.  Students whose essays are consistently strong in all of the areas identifed by the Program criteria should receive A's.  A's are reserved for those students who write quite well, and whose work is genuinely impressive to us as readers, not simply as teacher-readers.  These students have demonstrated themselves to be excellent writers.
  •  B.  Students whose essays are consistently strong in most criteria areas and adequate in all criteria areas should receive B's.  These students have demonstrated themselves to be good or very good writers.
  •  C.  Students whose essays are acceptable—moderately developed and reasonably organized, and generally make a point, if not a particularly compelling one, should receive C's.  These students have demonstrated themselves to be fair writers.
  •  D.  Students whose essays may succeed in one or two areas, but which are not successful in two or more areas, should receive D's.  For example, a D writer may write in a lively and clear style—nice paragraphs or sentences, perhaps—but seldom is the point carried through from beginning to end.  Or, a D writer may have a basic point and have a few great moments of insight, but is significantly confusing in his syntax, grammar, or style, so much so that a reader is in fact unclear about the meaning of some sentences.  Or, a D writer may write minimally, dashing off a quick, brief draft that isn't particularly wrong, but reads like an in-class paper written by a high school student.  These students have demonstrated themselves to be weak writers.  A D grade tells a student that s/he is not writing up to university expectations.  (Recall that a 2.0 GPA is required to retain good standing.)
  •  F.  A F grade is often a result of failure to complete work or expectations, but an F can is be earned by a student whose essays do not meet minimum standards on most of the criteria.  If at the end of a semester you read a student's work and you say to yourself, "There's no way this student is writing like a college student and I'd be embarrassed to say he passed my class," that student is a candidate for an earned F.

Note: These are descriptions of final grade attributes.  For guidelines on grading specific papers and benchmark papers, please see Student Writing Assessment (grading criteria can be also found in the prefatory pages of A Writer's Reference).

Grades of IN (Incomplete)

Incomplete grades should be given out rarely.  Incomplete grades should be given out, at student request, in situations where a student is doing passing work and then, because of some unexpected event (a death, an illness, a catastrophe, etc.) is unable to do work for a period of a few weeks.  The purpose of the Incomplete is to allow students to do the reading and writing that they were unable to do during their incapacity.

First-Year Writing faculty may not give grades of incomplete without permission from the First-Year Writing Director.  This is simply because we have such high turnover that we have had problems with Incomplete grades being given out by instructors who we can no longer be reached after the semester is over.  If a faculty member has a case that warrants an Incomplete, contact the First-Year Writing Director.  If the director agrees to the Incomplete, the faculty member will also need to do the following:

  • Complete an Incomplete contract specifying exactly what needs to be done. (Available in the English Department office.)
  • Have this form signed off on by the faculty member, the student, and the First-Year Writing Director.
  • Write a brief memo detailing the grade-to-date (grades on all completed work as well as grades for anything else that is specified in the syllabus, i.e., participation) and the percentage weight of the work that is still to be completed; submit it with the contract.  The accompanying memo should provide enough information on the student's grade to date to allow the director to assign a final grade if, by chance, the part-time faculty member were to become unavailable.

Policy on Withdrawal Grades

The provost has published a revised policy on withdrawal grades.  Essentially students can withdraw without discussion with you up until the 9th week of classes.  After that, students appeal not to the instructor but to the Dean of Students' Office.

Policy on Change of Grade Requests

Increasingly, students are pressuring instructors to submit a change of grade if the grade earned will cause them hardship.  In general, grades should not be
changed once they are submitted and such changes are discouraged.  Outside circumstances such as loss of scholarship, loss of financial aid, academic probation, or parental displeasure, although potentially heartbreaking, are not valid reasons for granting a change of grade.  Instructor error such as miscalculation of the grade is a valid reason.  In all other situations, use your discretion and good judgment.  Change of grade forms are available only through the English Department office.