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  1. #1
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    Default Can a Student Challenge a Grade Based on a Course Catalog Description vs. a Syllabus

    My question involves education law in the State of: OK

    Which controls the handling of the course -the publicly published bulletin(catalog) or the individual course syllabus?

    The instructor (a graduate student) has added a requirement that is not published as a part of the class to the grade criteria. The item added is such that if the student does not meet the additional requirement but has passed all of the published requirements, the student fails the class. All of the published (and passed) requirements are a component of the new criteria. If the student meets the additional requirement, the grade is that determined by the published criteria; if not, the student fails the course. The new requirement is not related to the subject matter of the course. The instructor has great leeway in the grading of all assignments.

    Does the student have a legal basis to challenge his grade?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Catalog Description vs Syllabus

    Quote Quoting OKisNotOK
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    Does the student have a legal basis to challenge his grade?
    No. The student might have some recourse within the school itself. That depends a lot on the particular school and its course and grading policies, of course, and you’ve not mentioned what college/university this is. But there is no recourse here in court. The courts don’t act as academic review boards to determine student grades and don’t get into the business of reviewing college grading decisions.

    In every college/university I attended (and I've attended several) the college/university set the minimum requirements for the course but the individual instructor set out the specific requirements that must be met to pass his/her class. If the instructor required more than the minimum the university required to accredit the course there was nothing wrong with that as far as the university was concerned. Indeed, setting higher standards was generally considered a good thing, as it raised the level of achievement of the students. In other words, my experience is that what the instructor sets in the syllabus is what the student needs to go by, since it is the instructor who sets the course and determines the grade, and generally the college/university will back up the decision of its instructors unless it clearly conflicts with some stated policy of the college/university. It’s good preparation for adult life. When you get into the work place, you'll find that what your boss wants is what you need to deliver, even if what he/she wants is more than what is in whatever “position description” that the company might give you.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Catalog Description vs Syllabus

    The challenge would be at the university not in the courts. There is recourse for the student with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education or Justice on other issues based on numerous disabilities not being accommodated. That would not accomplish the goal of a degree. The university's bulletin is one of the documents used to challenge the student's request for accommodations.

    The student has cancer and additional physical, mental health and learning disabilities documented with the university and is at risk for life threatening reactions to high levels of stress. This class causes extreme levels of stress in the course of completing the assignments. Due to the health problems exacerbated by stress, one assignment submitted was shorter than required and the grade on that assignment was adjusted to account for the length. However due to this one assignment being short, the student received a failing grade for the course even though all of the individual assignments (including the short one) received passing grades.

    The specific requirement being used to determine the pass/fail of the grade is not a stated requirement of the course in the bulletin.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Catalog Description vs Syllabus

    Your question seems tantamount to arguing, "Because the course catalog doesn't say that there will be tests or essays required to complete the course, the professor can't test the students or require essays". The syllabus is distributed to students at the start of a course. If a student does not want to perform the tasks described on the syllabus as necessary to successfully complete the class, the student has the option of dropping the course.

    If a student has serious health issues that make it difficult to complete coursework, most colleges will accommodate or allow the student to take an "incomplete" so that they can finish the coursework when they are in better health.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Catalog Description vs Syllabus

    Quote Quoting OKisNotOK
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    The student has cancer and additional physical, mental health and learning disabilities documented with the university and is at risk for life threatening reactions to high levels of stress. This class causes extreme levels of stress in the course of completing the assignments. Due to the health problems exacerbated by stress, one assignment submitted was shorter than required and the grade on that assignment was adjusted to account for the length. However due to this one assignment being short, the student received a failing grade for the course even though all of the individual assignments (including the short one) received passing grades.
    The school does not have to lower standards or requirements in a class due to a disability. If the school takes federal funds, however, it must provide reasonable accommodation to a disabled student that would allow the student the opportunity to meet the course requirements despite the disability. Upon the seeing the syllabus, the student had the option to either drop the class or to ask for a needed accommodation. If the student didn’t do either before doing that assignment is now regretting the poor grade he or she got and in hindsight is looking for something that will allow him/her to get that grade removed, I think that student will likely find he or she is out-of-luck. That the student has cancer is unfortunate, but having a serious illness is not something that ought to allow a student to get by with doing less than any other student is required to do for the course.

    Quote Quoting OKisNotOK
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    The specific requirement being used to determine the pass/fail of the grade is not a stated requirement of the course in the bulletin.

    Course catalogs are by nature very general descriptions of the class. They do not, and are not intended to, list exactly everything that a student will have to do to pass the course. Universities give their faculty significant latitude in exactly how to set the course. I agree with Mr. Knowitall that it sounds like you are making an argument that, for example, every test, every assignment must be listed in the course catalog/bulletin or it cannot be required by the instructor. That argument will fail. That is not how college works, either now or at any time in the past.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Catalog Description vs Syllabus

    Generally the teacher and the dean of that subject are the ones that set the expectations past a certain point. It sounds like you were told at the beginning what the expectation was...right? Or are you saying it was added at the end after you turned in all assignments?

    The time to ask for accommodation was at the beginning of the semester when the syllabus was received. Rather than at the end after performance has been graded and you failed to meet the standard set. Lowering the standard is not what ADA is about..... instead it is about helping you meet the standard with accommodations. What accommodations did you ask for and were they reasonable? What did they refuse?

    I feel for you.. My nephew suffered through 4 years of college with leukemia and chemo side effects every day of those 4 years. The university gave him reasonable accommodations all 4 years, but that didn't mean the standards were changed too terribly much. He still had to perform at the same level when it came to assignments. He graduated with a 2.9. But he graduated and honestly of all of my relatives in that generation he is the one I am most proud of -- not his brother who got a 4.0, went to law school and now practices at one of the best firms in the country.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Catalog Description vs Syllabus

    Quote Quoting Mr. Knowitall
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    Your question seems tantamount to arguing, "Because the course catalog doesn't say that there will be tests or essays required to complete the course, the professor can't test the students or require essays". The syllabus is distributed to students at the start of a course. If a student does not want to perform the tasks described on the syllabus as necessary to successfully complete the class, the student has the option of dropping the course.

    If a student has serious health issues that make it difficult to complete coursework, most colleges will accommodate or allow the student to take an "incomplete" so that they can finish the coursework when they are in better health.
    The course is required for graduation. The requirement in question is outside the normal expectations of a university course.

    The university is very strict about grade changes. It also applies different standards to American and international students due to the credit hour requirements of the F-1 visa.

    The course in question has multiple sections; they are divided first by native verses non-native English speakers and then the individual instructors are free to select their own material as required reading and essay topics.

    It is possible for a student to attend class all semester, pass all assignments and still fail the course.


    Also, a student who medically withdraws due to a mental health issue is prevented from re-enrolling for a year (essentially 3 semesters) and can do so ony at the digression of a university administrator who is not a medical professional. The university has a history of ignoring the recommendations of board certified physicians.

    Quote Quoting Taxing Matters
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    The school does not have to lower standards or requirements in a class due to a disability. If the school takes federal funds, however, it must provide reasonable accommodation to a disabled student that would allow the student the opportunity to meet the course requirements despite the disability. Upon the seeing the syllabus, the student had the option to either drop the class or to ask for a needed accommodation. If the student didn’t do either before doing that assignment is now regretting the poor grade he or she got and in hindsight is looking for something that will allow him/her to get that grade removed, I think that student will likely find he or she is out-of-luck. That the student has cancer is unfortunate, but having a serious illness is not something that ought to allow a student to get by with doing less than any other student is required to do for the course.



    Course catalogs are by nature very general descriptions of the class. They do not, and are not intended to, list exactly everything that a student will have to do to pass the course. Universities give their faculty significant latitude in exactly how to set the course. I agree with Mr. Knowitall that it sounds like you are making an argument that, for example, every test, every assignment must be listed in the course catalog/bulletin or it cannot be required by the instructor. That argument will fail. That is not how college works, either now or at any time in the past.
    The student has been denied accommodations supported by both his PCP and psychiatrist. The committee deciding accommodations has no psychiatrist, neuropsycologist or even MD on it yet demands medical information and tests none on the committee is qualified to assess. They want detailed behavior assessments based on various drugs. The student in a prior semester ended up in the ER due to an adverse prescription drug reaction; since it was a drug reaction, a complete assessment for illegal drugs was performed and no use of illegal substances was found.

    The most recent prescription was denied by the health insurance; at over $1000 per month for just one of many, a less effective one must be used.

    Quote Quoting hr for me
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    Generally the teacher and the dean of that subject are the ones that set the expectations past a certain point. It sounds like you were told at the beginning what the expectation was...right? Or are you saying it was added at the end after you turned in all assignments?

    The time to ask for accommodation was at the beginning of the semester when the syllabus was received. Rather than at the end after performance has been graded and you failed to meet the standard set. Lowering the standard is not what ADA is about..... instead it is about helping you meet the standard with accommodations. What accommodations did you ask for and were they reasonable? What did they refuse?

    I feel for you.. My nephew suffered through 4 years of college with leukemia and chemo side effects every day of those 4 years. The university gave him reasonable accommodations all 4 years, but that didn't mean the standards were changed too terribly much. He still had to perform at the same level when it came to assignments. He graduated with a 2.9. But he graduated and honestly of all of my relatives in that generation he is the one I am most proud of -- not his brother who got a 4.0, went to law school and now practices at one of the best firms in the country.
    The single accommodation requested was one of many suggested by US government's recommended disability support site. It was supported by the student's physicians. One physician's policy is to refuse to write accommodation recommendations, and the university used his refusal as one of the reasons to deny the request. They also refused to accept the letter of his board certified psychiatrist with over 40 years of practice demanding the physician complete the university's about 30 page form requesting information the physician was unwilling to provide individuals without proper training.

    We know another student with fewer disabilities who was also denied services because his family could not afford the many thousands to update testing records.

    The requirement was stated but in the past has been inconsistently applied. During a prior attempt, the student completed 2/3 of the course and was given 1 month additional to complete the material. The requirement in question would not have been applied per our understanding of the conversation we all had with that instructor. Unfortunately, it took the student about 5 months to recover enough to continue the work so that it would not have been accepted. The material presented in another attempt at the course was so controversial (it made me sick to my stomach to read it) that he dropped the class due to the stress - medically documented.

    The only accommodation granted was additional time to complete exams. This did not apply in this case.

    An independent, objective assessment of the student's work shows a post masters degree competency in an entry level undergraduate class.

    To make matters even more ridiculous, the student passed an earlier version of the class with a different course number; the university no longer offers that course but refuses to accept it for fulfillment of the degree requirements. The student is within 7 hours of completing the degree including this class.

    A degree is the entry level requirement for employment in the area at which the student excels. Contract work from home at an above average hourly rate is common in the field and would generate enough income to cover the periods when it is difficult to work. The alternative is SSI. This is the reason for the attempts to complete the degree.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Catalog Description vs Syllabus

    You are providing incomplete information. your initial post only asks about whether or not a course catalog and syllabus must agree (they do not) and whether or not an instructor must do the same as other teaching similar classes (no, they do not).

    Now you introduce a different aspect but provide no other information about the situation except that now there is an ADA/physical/psychiatric/psychological reason for not being able to complete this course but no details about what any of this really means.

    It's possible that this is still totally above boards so, yes, you can still fail the class and it's totally legit. TO qualify this, however, you would have to provide far more information that you seem willing. I mean pertinent information.

    Your claim that it's this or collecting SSI is preposterous, by the way. Perhaps the student should pull up their big boy/girl pants and sort their life out.

    It's now time for covfefe and work.
    "Where do those stairs go?"
    "They go up!"

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Catalog Description vs Syllabus

    Even if the student feels he is competent, if he didn't complete the work necessary to pass the course he won't pass the course.

    He can complain until the end of time that at different times, the requirements for the completion of the course were different. He had the syllabus, he knew was required when he took the course, and he didn't complete his work. That's all that matters.

    We know nothing about the "single accommodation" that was requested, or whether it has even slight relevance to the student's failure to complete required coursework. Of course, if the student's own doctor took the position that no accommodation was necessary, that's almost certainly a dead end.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Catalog Description vs Syllabus

    And just because the single accommodation was on the us govt website as an example, it does not mean it automatically applies to your situation. ADA/reasonable accommodation is very depended on individual details. Employers and schools are required to interact with you and your physicians to work out a plan that is reasonable and it seems this is at least your 2nd attempt to pass this specific class. Was the instructor the same each time?

    It's hard to see how changing the material/syllabus will be a reasonable accommodation. I know I have seen attendance, scheduling and testing accommodations. I have not seen lowering the length of an assignment although I have seen giving more time to complete. In the end you are going to have to have a physician who backs up your need for the accommodations. Why? because you are right, the people on the other side are not physicians and only have your medical documentation to go by. They may or may not get outside counsel.

    Is there any way to take this class elsewhere (if entry level basic class you might find it at a local community college or online) and transfer the credit in? Of course, they might still have the same readings/syllabus/coursework as the current school.

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