Aoife Rooney examines the change to the examination appeals process and speaks to several students about their experience.
Trimester one module results were made available to students via a personalised link on Friday the 29th of January. While many students have taken issue with the way UCD have dealt with assessment since in-person academic restrictions came into effect in the previous trimester, these issues have been seemingly exacerbated by the announcement that UCD has removed the provisional grade period that typically lasted two weeks before grades became final.
In this period, students had the right to contest or ultimately appeal specific module results. This time allotted to give students space to rectify any issues with grading identified. In the new structure, the approach is very much ‘get as many concrete results as possible out, then deal with the fallout of students dissatisfied with grades after’. From this viewpoint, it can be seen as a way to expedite the process, compounded with the fact that students were encouraged to apply for extenuating circumstances throughout the semester if they needed it. While this sounds like a reasonable response from management, it is undermined by an outpouring of criticism by students, citing little to no support, particularly among lecturers and module coordinators, leading to a breakdown in promised assistance.
This issue stemmed from the previous trimester, with the introduction of a seemingly ‘no detriment’ policy, which promised a student’s GPA would not suffer as a result of in-person classes endings and the transfer to online classes. Many felt as though this promise was not upheld by management, and the consequences are still being felt over halfway through the next academic year. This is an important factor to note, as it is not that big a leap to link this new change in policy to the overwhelming backlash received with the release of Spring 2020 results. While the abolition of provisional grades does not prevent students from appealing their marks, it has been a source of stress for students who do wish to make use of the assessment review or appeal options available to them. In a statement released by UCDSU, the reasoning behind the decision was made "mainly to affect staff and the way the grade approvals process was carried out".
One student detailed how they thought that "the appeals process is unfair this year", a sentiment that has been echoed throughout the discourse on the topic over the past week. Despite this, Graduate Officer Carla Gummerson did make clear in a statement released on behalf of the Students' Union that she has "not seen an increase in appeal support. I think this is because we encouraged students to apply for extenuating circumstances last trimester". The statement went on to clarify: "those that felt they were struggling would have more than likely used this process". While again, this is sound in theory, it depends heavily on the cooperation and willingness to help of lecturers - a task maybe not rigidly adhered to in previous years. One student I spoke to is in a lockjaw in terms of options: "I have asked a few of my module coordinators for feedback, but they haven’t been particularly forthcoming". While this in isolation is worrying, the basis for appeal is even more problematic. The statement, which can be found on the UCD Student Engagement, Conduct, Complaints and Appeals page is as follows: ‘Dissatisfaction or disappointment with a result of an assessment is not a ground for an assessment appeal.’
While it should be understood that a grade cannot be appealed if a student simply disagrees with a result, if there is disappointment with a grade due to the result not reflecting the work put in during the trimester, students should be within their rights to question this. This is where students are finding themselves at a loss for support. Despite the Dean of Students Jason Last sending an email to all students on Friday, 5 February detailing the supports available to the everyone with particular regard to exam results, there seems to be very little room for manoeuvre when it comes to establishing a fair rubric for how assessment should be divided in terms of making sure students feeling fairly evaluated. This is amplified by the fact that while in-term application of extenuating circumstances is advised for students who need it, it is hugely dependent on the support of the lecturers responsible for setting fair assessment and giving equitable feedback, and many students are of the opinion that this part of the deal is not being upheld. One second-year student felt that they "were not given clear assessment guidelines for the assignment" and that there was a "lack of clear guidelines". The student also received poor support and evaluation from their lecturers, a gave a damning report, stating that "feedback was non-existent".
From the literature published from the various offices of the university, UCD seems to have complicated a fairly straightforward course to ensuring integrity within fair assessment is maintained. The original format of dealing with grade disputes had its faults, such as having to wait until the semester has ended to get assessment issues that had arisen throughout the semester remedied, but on the whole, it was fairer to students, allowing them to move on to the current semester without the baggage of worrying about last trimesters modules. It is also worth noting that because so many students were unhappy with end of year assessment and results last year, many of them were still dealing with issues associated with the previous year when the responsibilities of this trimester started to mount.
The final day for submitting an assessment appeal, which brings with it a cost of €75, was Friday, February 12. From this date, students can expect to wait up to 30 working days, or approximately six weeks before the appeal assessment committee has to come to a decision. This means that a student could be in week eight of trimester two before they know whether or not their appeal is going to be upheld.
While students can progress into the next trimester while awaiting the results from grades under appeal, it’s not good enough that there would be a significant number of students waiting to hear back about last trimesters assessment when they are preparing for assignments and exams for the current term. While this scheduling is not a new addition to the change made for this trimester, if the time is being taken to review the process that is supposed to serve the students of UCD, any changes should be made with them in mind, not the those whose job it is to ensure the fair assessment of students is being honoured.