What to Do When a Student Asks for a Better Grade

It’s tempting to cave, but should you?

We’re approaching the end of the marking period, and for many teachers, that means you’ll be hearing from a few students who are unhappy with their grades. Two separate teachers recently wrote into the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE! on this topic. High school teacher Laura wrote about how to handle not only a complaining student but the complaining parent co-conspirator. “I’m starting to feel discouraged and thinking that I don’t have thick skin to deal with this,” she described.

Similarly, chemistry teacher Beatrice wrote about students in her class who are willing to “sell their soul” for higher grades, even though she’s already dropped the lowest quiz grade and allowed retakes on failed tests. “I’m exhausted from fighting the good fight and being seen as the ‘bad guy’ for keeping high standards in my classes. What do I do?”

The guilt trips, the whining, the parent bullying—it’s a lot to handle, and it might seem easier to just cave and bump up the grade. But here is some advice from our Helpliners on holding the line and not emotionally draining yourself in the process.

1. If you email, keep it professional.

“Stand your ground. Keep all correspondence with parents and students formal and free of emotion. Share any rubrics and grading percentages with them, and close by saying that they are free to set up conferences with you if they need more explanation. Keep all feelings of frustration and emotion out of your communication. It’s hard, but whenever I’m professional and calm, the treatment is usually reciprocated.” —Heather S.

2. Or avoid email all together.

“Don’t ever get into email wars. EVER! Email back a very basic response: Please let me know what day is convenient for you to come for a conference so you, the student, and I can discuss your concerns … in person.” —Cathy C.

3. Don’t internalize the conflict.


“There will always be people like this. Don’t let it get you down.” —Vicky A.

“Why feel bad for them? They earned their grades. I struggle with this at the middle school level as well. I think we are setting up our students for failure if we bail them out all the time. Accountability is what they need to learn and understand.” —Linda P.

4. Help the students gain perspective.

“Explain that this can be an opportunity to learn for the next term, not to wait until the last minute.” —Kelli M.

“No college or boss is going to ‘tweak your percentile.’ Hold the line; it will help them in the long run.” —Helaina W.

5. Call them out on their requests.

“I had a student request to exchange nine push-ups for nine percentage points. I said, ‘Are you serious?!’” —Gretchen K.

6. Stay strong.

“Say, ‘No. I’m sorry you hate me, still no.’ I have a student who is currently not speaking to me because she earned an 88% versus a 90% for the semester. Her father was going to buy her something for all A’s. She would have had an A in my class, but she slacked off in the last quarter. So it goes.” —Terry V.

7. Show them how much of a boost they already received.

“I show the student what the grade would have been without the test corrections, retesting and extra credit. That usually helps them appreciate the grade they’ve earned.” —Tina J.

Better grades