Grades: Undergraduate Policies

Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education

Key Contacts 

If you have questions, please contact CLAS Undergraduate Programs. 



Policy Purpose and Description  

Grading is a difficult task and departments are encouraged to set aside time each year to share best practices and to discuss grading strategies within the department or program. New instructors should especially be mentored about undergraduate vs. graduate student grades and grading issues while being introduced to best grading practices. 

Students from other colleges taking courses administered by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are subject to CLAS policies. CLAS students taking courses offered by other UI colleges are subject to the grading policies of those colleges. 


Criterion-Referenced Grading: With criterion-referenced grading, students receive grades based on the quality of their work in relation to the criteria defined by the instructor and by the rubrics or models specifying the qualities of each grade. Students’ achievements are measured by this mastery of concepts and skills. Each instructor may choose their own percent equivalencies for letter grades. 

Norm-Referenced Grading: A “curve” is applied to generate the final percentage of each letter grade awarded. Final grades are assigned, in part, based on how others in the class perform. Norm-based grading is generally used in large courses in order to be statistically relevant, with the largest percentage of students performing at the average level. Instructors and/or departments may set their own percentages. 


Please enter grades into the ICON grade book as soon as possible so that students understand their standing in the course. Students need to see their grades throughout the semester in order to avoid confusion about their progress and to learn if they might need to change their study habits or to improve their time management skills. 

CLAS does not require either criterion-referenced grading or norm-referenced grading schemes to be used; additionally, some instructors use elements from both. For example, those using a criterion-referenced grading scheme may also apply a curve at the end of the course to adjust grades upward if very few students earn the higher grades normally expected in the course. 

Generally, a curve should not be used to lower grades if one is using a criterion-based grading scheme. 

CLAS has always recommended the use of +/- grading since it helps to distinguish students performance. 

A through F letter grades are used, with plus and minuses used by almost all instructors; note that the grade of F is never given with a plus or a minus; other grades may use the plus or minus. 

Instructors should choose a grading strategy appropriate to departmental guidelines, to the related discipline, and to its professional organization’s recommendations. Departments are encouraged to discuss grading schemes and expectations.  

Grades and grading should be as transparent as possible. Students should have enough information to understand grades earned on various assignments, quizzes, and exams and their relation to the final semester grade so that the student can reasonably predict this semester grade as the course proceeds. 

The grading scheme should be described in the syllabus and reviewed with students frequently during the course. The syllabus date must be current and include any needed information related to the use of plus or minus grades. 

Once the semester begins, a grading scheme may be modified in order to benefit students; however, it may not be adjusted to lower students’ grades. 

The number of students who drop the course should not affect the overall grades of those who remain in the course. 

Instructors are obligated to evaluate each students work fairly and without bias and to assign grades based on valid academic criteria that has been well-defined for students. See the University Operations Manual on professional ethics and academic responsibility, part 2(e) and the University policy on human rights. 

It is especially important that grading be consistent across sections of multi-section courses.  

The College supports grades that accurately reflect the level of the student’s mastery of the course content and related skills regardless of the performance by other students in the course.  

The DEO or Program Coordinator reviews all semester grades when submitted and should ensure that the grades and grading meet the above guidelines. 

Questions about grades and grading? Please consult with the associate dean for undergraduate education or the associate dean for graduate education. 



Frequently Asked Questions  


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