Standards remain consistent: Campus community offers opinions on grading international students

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Like many international students, when freshman entrepreneurship major Mateo Fiorilo decided to leave Bolivia to go to school at UIndy, he felt confident about his college preparedness but was concerned about the language.

“It was challenging because here I would have to talk to everyone in English,” Fiorilo said. “That was something that was very difficult for me at the start [of the semester].”

Similarly, when junior chemistry major Abdullah Alalharith left Saudi Arabia for school in the United States, he also was worried about his fluency in English.

Although he does not have many complaints about the grading of his assignments, Alalharith believes that international students’ abilities mandate special considerations.

“I think there should be more flexibility with international students than English [U.S.] students,” Alalharith said.

Alalharith said that this flexibility is necessary because international students have more difficulty meeting guidelines and criteria for assignments at a level that the instructor finds satisfactory.

“I think international students need [to put forth] more effort to make it [assignments] complete,” Alalharith said.

However,  Acting Dean of the School of Business and Associate Professor of Business Karl Knapp said that he believes there should be no difference in grading—a process he calls assessment.

“We have to remain consistent in our standards of assessment no matter who the student is or what their background is,” Knapp said. “They have to be able to perform in the class to earn the grade that the assessment methods would dictate.”

Neither Knapp nor English Department Chair and Associate Professor Kyoko Amano have heard any complaints regarding grades or assessment. Amano believes the problem may arise from grading differences between different departments.

“Generally, in the English department, we are saying that we cannot have a different standard for international students, but it is possible in other departments,” Amano said.

Reading an email she had recently received, Amano said that some international students in the English department feel that they are graded more harshly than students in other departments.

According to the email, professors in other departments may “overlook grammatical difficulties to focus on the strengths of the content and obviousness of effort extended on drafting and research.”

Fiorilo supports this idea of grading papers based on the development and support rather than grammar.

“When you’re grading a paper, in my opinion, you have to grade it for the content,” Fiorilo said. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad you explain it, as long as you make yourself clear.”

However, Amano feels that there should be no differences in grading for international students and native English-speaking students within her department.

“I mean, we are teaching English, right?” Amano said. “We have to keep that standard.”

Junior finance major Jiaxin Chen feels that international students can benefit from teachers grading grammar and content using the same standards that are in place for native students.

“If teachers do this, it can improve our English, because if we cannot meet the requirements, our grade will be low,” Chen said. “We try to improve the grade, so we have to improve our English.”

While he believes the emphasis should be on the students’ ideas, Fiorilo feels that grading in an English class is different.

“Each class is different,” Fiorilo said. “If it’s biology, I don’t know. But if it’s English, you have to lose points if it’s not [grammatically] perfect.”

Knapp said that the difference exists between courses rather than departments. Therefore, Knapp said, the professor must set his or her own standards based on the individual course.

Knapp and Amano both believe that certain measures can be implemented to prevent students from feeling as though they have been graded unfairly.

Amano said that she uses rubrics and writes comments to describe why the student’s work received certain deductions. Knapp also advocates the use of these rubrics and other materials to provide clarity.

“That’s the key tool in assessment—making sure that expectations of the students are clear,” Knapp said. “Then there is less room for complaints, and students know exactly what is expected.”

Chen said that when he came to UIndy from China, he was concerned that people would not understand him and that he would not be able to meet the requirements for papers. However, when he has a rubric, Chen feels he is able to better understand the assignment.

“It tells me what the professor’s focus is,” Chen said. “It will let me know how I can get a better grade, and it will make my paper more clear.”

Because Knapp has not personally heard of any issues, he said that he is not sure that there is a true problem in regard to grading differences. However, he recognizes that students possess different skills.

“Every student is unique in terms of the support they need, the help they need, [and] the kind of questions they ask,” Knapp said. “The variance really comes in on the kind of support they need, but the assessment should be exactly the same. Standards are standards.”

Alalharith believes that the time required to complete assignments may be another barrier for students from abroad.

“Usually international students or native students have plenty of time when it comes to a report or something like that,” Alalharith said. “But sometimes in exams … the international student has difficulty understanding questions.”

However, Alalharith does not necessarily feel that this would require the professor to give only the international students time extensions for exams.

“I think the teacher will put in his [or her] expectations: ‘I have international students, so I’ll extend the time [for  exams] for about 20 minutes for all students,’” Alalharith said.

Chen said he and other Chinese students have a cultural barrier to worry about.

He said that he and others from China prefer just to email a professor and complete assignments rather than participate in class discussions.

Fiorilo said that, overall, professors should consider the implications of having international students in their classes.

“If you’re an international student, the teachers should know that it [the assignment] is not going to be as good as a native speaker’s,” Fiorilo said.

Knapp said that each situation and each class are different and that the cases must be viewed individually.

“There really is no one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter answer,” Knapp said. “Each class is unique, and it’s up to the professor.”

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