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Business School fails students through grading error

ACCT6007 students had an entire assessment task left out of their final mark calculation.

Some students who failed cancelled their flights, turned down job offers and extended their degrees, before learning they had actually passed. Some students who failed cancelled their flights, turned down job offers and extended their degrees, before learning they had actually passed.

Students who took a semester one Business School unit had their grades incorrectly calculated, causing at least 15 to fail who otherwise would have passed. The error, which has now been corrected, came after an entire assessment task was left out of students’ final results, the Business School claims.

The affected unit of study is ACCT6007, or Contemporary Issues in Auditing, a postgraduate coursework subject often taken in the final semester of a Masters of Accounting. According to Business School Deputy Dean John Shields, 744 students completed ACCT6007 in semester one this year. The unit is popular with international students, who pay about $5250 for this subject alone.

Of those enrolled, about 75 students were told they had failed when semester one results were released on 18 July. Shields described this fail rate as “not really higher than it normally is”.

But soon, the ACCT6007 coordinators began receiving a higher than usual number of informal appeals. This is a process that allows dissatisfied students to contest an assessment mark through an online form, and must be submitted within 15 business days of receiving their results. Normally, the teaching team would “expect to receive about 20” informal appeals, said Shields; instead, “approximately 100” were received.

In response, the coordinators launched a grade audit, which, according to Shields, revealed that an assessable quiz, worth 5 per cent of the subject total, had not been uploaded onto the internal mark calculator.

Shields described this as an “error in the management of data”—a “human error”, and one the Business School was “apologising for”. He suggested staff were unfamiliar with the new Canvas mark uploading software, which the School was using for the first time this year, and that this may have been a contributing factor. 

On 31 July, unit coordinator Angela Hecimovic sent a Canvas message to all ACCT6007 students: after explaining the error, she said “the good news is that all marks will increase by 1 to 5 marks (depending on your assessment mark previously awarded).”

After the recalculation, 15 students who had previously failed moved to a pass grade, leaving about 60 with a fail.

However, questions remain over the Business School’s explanation.

Some students maintain that their total grade increased by an amount different from the mark they initially received for the forgotten assessment task. Lisa* said that when the assessment’s marks were released on Canvas, she received three out of five. After the recalculation, however, her grade only went up by two—from 46 to 48.

Another student, Bob*, had the same experience: after receiving three marks in the forgotten assessment, his final grade went up only by two.

When asked for an explanation, Shields said he had “no idea” how the discrepancy might have come about. “It’s unlikely to be a rounding error,” he said, and invited any students with this issue to contact him directly.

Bob, however, doubted the Business School’s explanation. “I think the problem is not relevant to  [the forgotten assessment task],” he said. “Maybe the teacher only wanted to give low marks.”

Whatever the explanation, there are ongoing complaints over the Business School’s handling of the miscalculation.

Honi understands that many students formed grievances after an exam script review session on July 23, five days after the final results were released. This is often the first step in the informal appeal process, allowing students to gauge whether they have grounds for appeal. Lisa, who reviewed her paper, explained there was no feedback, and that she had received zero for lengthy answers: “My answers did not deserve full marks, but they were reasonable,” she said.

Some students, however, were unable to make the July 23 viewing. Robert Morley, one of the unit coordinators, offered these students a time slot on August 9—one day after the cut off for launching an informal appeal.

Shields has since extended the deadline for students who attended the August 9 viewing.

Nonetheless, over 70 students brought their complaints to Weihong Liang, the president of the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association.

Liang told Honi that some students had cancelled flights back home after failing ACCT6007. “Some have lost weight,” Liang said. He also noted that many students were studying ACCT6007 in their final semester. Bob, who was in this category, explained the consequences: “If I fail this course, I will have to stay in Sydney for another three months. It will make me miss a lot of job offers.”

Liang contacted the Business School on the aggrieved students’ behalf. Six days later, Associate Dean (Student Life) Juliette Overland informed Liang the grade error had now been corrected, before turning down Liang’s request for a meeting.

Liang then reached out to student media, and Honi began contacting Business School officials on August 2. Overland sent Liang a further email later that day: “While allowing the informal appeals to progress separately, we are happy to meet with you to discuss the additional items raised.”

Shields met with Liang and a SUPRA caseworker on August 3. Their “discussions were fruitful”, Shields said, explaining that he would “represent the school in fortnightly meetings with SUPRA officials”.

He further promised to apologise for the Business School’s handling of ACCT6007.  “I will write a formal apology on my own letterhead to every student affected explaining what we’ve done wrong and what we’ve done about it.”

*Names have been changed