Math update: Guidelines for assessments for the winter 2020 examination period

Friday, March 6, 2020

This message was originally sent to instructors in the Faculty of Mathematics by David Harmsworth, acting associate dean, undergraduate students, and Adam Kolkiewicz, associate dean, graduate studies.

Please note that this is for the Faculty of Mathematics only. Please be aware that your Unit Heads can provide more information and will schedule calls this week in regards to this.


  1. Recognize that everyone is stressed, and that graciousness is the preferred attitudinal response.
  2. Accept that neither accuracy in assessing student understanding nor expectations of academic integrity will be at normal levels.
  3. We will manage risk by eliminating final examinations and the associated issues of access, time zone differences, failures in technology, absence of proctors, abundance of special cases, and lack of timely support.
  4. An assessment in place of a final exam will be permitted during the exam period. Rules governing the assignment are given below.
  5. Communicate clearly and repeatedly what is expected to students and the teaching team. 
  6. These guidelines apply to both graduate and undergraduate courses.
  7. Consult with your Chair or Director if you need to vary from these guidelines.

Assessments During the Winter 2020 Exam Period:

  1. Multi-section, on-campus courses, other than advanced sections, should have a single protocol over all sections.
  2. Existing online courses should continue as normal with the exception of in-person exams which now need to be replaced.
  3. If enough term work has been completed that, in your judgement, allows you to make a reasonably accurate assessment of a student’s understanding, then an assessment in place of a final examination is not required.
  4. A single assessment during the examination and in place of a final examination is permitted.
    1. Note that a decision has been made (within the Faculty of Mathematics not to use timed final exams because of concerns including possible failures of technology, accessibility issues, and the fact that students will now be in different time zones. Ten days should be permitted for any assessment due in the final exam period. 
    2. Note that this means you should not be extending due dates for term work into the exam period if you also want a replacement for the final exam (or compressing three weeks of material and work into the final two weeks of term). The suspension of all course activities March 16th - 20th means one week of the term has been lost.
  5. The entire commitment for a competent student (75%) to acquire, upload, study for, prepare for and execute the assessment in place of a final exam should not exceed 10-15 hours.
  6. Assessments should be distributed and returned via Crowdmark, LEARN or MarkUs.
  7. Assessments can be embedded into final grades in one of three ways.
    1. Use a max function with two arguments. The first argument would be a numeric grade for term work completed thus far. The second argument would be a numeric grade for term work (reweighted) plus the assessment in place of an examination. To address concerns about academic integrity, the assessment in place of an examination cannot have more than 25% weight in the formula for a final grade.
    2. For situations in which an examination would have been heavily weighted, the final assessment plus term work can be used to determine a  CR/NCR grade. Grades should either be numeric or CR/NCR for the entire class. That is, there should not be a mix of grades within a course.
    3. The instructor may choose that the assessment in place of a final exam be mandatory. Be conscious that you may have to deal with many exceptional cases. To address concerns about academic integrity, the assessment in place of an examination cannot have more than 25% weight in the formula for a final grade.
    4. Consult with your Chair or Director if you need to vary from these guidelines.
  8. The time between providing the assessment and the due date should be at least ten days to allow students to distribute their workload.
  9. Students will be asked to sign an academic integrity statement which will be provided.
  10. If your course had an exam that was originally scheduled Apr 8 – 16, post your assessment in place of an exam on or before April 9. Otherwise, post your assessment on April 12. This will help ensure some spread for students.
  11. Avoid having the assessment due in the last 4 days of the exam period, to make sure there is enough time for marking and ironing out any issues with marking and composing final course grades. That is, the final assessment should be due no later than April 20th.

Assigned Grades

  1. Instructors have the authority, in the current circumstances, to modify the grading scheme for the course without student consent.
  2. If at all possible, assign a numeric grade. Notes:
    1. CR/NCR grades are not included in average calculations. CR grades satisfy any grade-based prerequisite rules.
    2. Concerns have been raised regarding possible unintended consequences of CR/NCR grading (examples include uncertainty regarding how other organizations will view them, and the perception of unfairness on the part of students who need to raise their averages this term to meet plan requirements).
    3. For those of you with students in Engineering or Science, those Faculties would prefer that you use numeric grades.
  3. Grades must either be numeric or CR/NCR for the entire class. That is, there cannot be a mix of grades within a course.
  4. Do not use AEG without consulting the Associate Dean.
  5. Restrict INCs to those who have not completed and cannot complete sufficient work for a grade to be determined. Avoid large numbers of INCs. Be conscious that if a student has legitimately missed a midterm, that maybe sufficient to warrant an INC based on your grading scheme (it is quite possible that for Winter 2020 a missed midterm will be a stronger justification for an INC than a missed final assessment). Determining what should be done to resolve a Winter 2020 INC grade may be difficult; one option is a heavily weighted final exam to be written in August or December.
  6. For students with INC grades outstanding from previous terms, who were expected to write a final exam in Winter 2020, the deadline for completion can be extended until the next scheduled final exam for the course. If this means going beyond the normal 1-year deadline, that will be authorized by the Associate Dean. If this extension causes a problem for the student, contact the Associate Dean. 

Academic Integrity

  1. Accept that there will be more opportunity and more incentive for students to cheat.
  2. We will manage this by social expectatation (signing and academic integrity statement) and by sampling after the fact if so desired.

Communicating Expectations to Students

  1. Though many of us need to modify our syllabi in recognition of the University's response to COVID-19, students are still entitled to know the basis on which their work will be judged.
  2. When possible, a typical formulaic grading scheme should be used.
  3. If CR/NCR is used, be as explicit as possible about when an NCR would be assigned. Students will then be able to exercise a late WD if needed and make a more informed judgement about what they need to accomplish in the examination period if they intend to continue.
  4. In multi-section courses, reach consensus among instructors about how you intend to proceed.
  5. Post a revised course outline detailing your new grading scheme on the course website and email it to students no earlier than Fri 20 Mar 2020 and no later than Mon Mar 23.
  6. If you have already given information to your students which is inconsistent with these guidelines, you will need to make a new announcement, superceding your previous one. This is obviously not ideal, but our entire community will need to be patient while we deal with the challenge of making and communicating an enormous number of decisions in a rapidly changing environment.