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Policies and Procedures Home > Table of Contents >


  • The learning experience provides opportunities for the student to define individual learning objectives, to engage in dialogue regarding evaluation criteria, and to tailor learning activities to her/his own intellectual, professional and personal interests.
  • The learning experience effectively supports the student’s active engagement with the subject of study.
  • The learning experience fosters life-long, independent learning skills, including the student’s capacity to assess her/his own learning needs and progress.
  • The mentor responds to, evaluates and actively guides the individual student throughout the learning experience.
These core elements of the college’s educational model lead to a unique approach to evaluation and documentation of student learning.

Empire State College is committed to individualizing the learning experience and to the use of an individualized, narrative evaluation of the student’s performance. The college also recognizes that many students need letter grades for external purposes. Given that student evaluation serves both intrinsic and extrinsic purposes, Empire State College faculty members both prepare narrative evaluations and award letter grades.* The narrative evaluation is a description of learning objectives and activities and an assessment of the academic growth and accomplishments of the individual student. The letter grade is a summary of the student’s performance.

Narrative Evaluations

A well-designed, individualized learning contract or course lays the foundation for effective student evaluation by clearly outlining learning objectives and activities, and methods and criteria for evaluation. The mentor evaluates the student’s work in light of these elements throughout the learning experience. Thus, the mentor’s feedback to the student is rooted in the learning contract or course design itself, occurs throughout the study, and culminates in the closing narrative evaluation and grade. The mentor also helps the student develop self-assessment skills, through the design of the study and through dialogue about evaluation methods and criteria.

Empire State College narrative evaluations document students’ academic growth during their studies. At the same time, students need to meet the minimum performance standards established for each study, for credit to be awarded. To support student achievement, Empire State College faculty may afford students opportunities to revise work during a study in order to meet performance standards at the minimum or a higher level. Nevertheless, a student who works hard and shows progress, and is still not able to meet the stated criteria for evaluation, does not earn college credit.

The college’s Policy on Learning Contract Study defines the content of learning contracts and contract evaluations. The learning contract defines the learning objectives of the study, the learning activities to be completed, and the methods and criteria for evaluating the student’s performance. In the contract evaluation, the mentor summarizes key elements of the learning experience and provides an evaluative discussion of the nature and quality of the student’s work in the study.

The narrative evaluation serves three purposes:
  1. to provide specific feedback to the student regarding the quality of her/his work and accomplishments in the study;
  2. to summarize the study’s learning objectives and the learning activities that the student completed, including any modifications that occurred as the study unfolded, which provides essential documentation of the learning experience for the student and for external audiences; and
  3. to provide a record of the student’s performance and accomplishments, for the student’s official transcript.

Narrative-only Evaluation for Empire State College Degree

An Empire State College student may choose narrative-only evaluation for all of her/his Empire State College studies. In this case, the student does not receive letter grades for Empire State College studies. The college does not provide a G.P.A. for a student who selects this option. Therefore, prior to selecting this option, the student should be certain s/he will not need letter grades and a G.P.A. in the future.

Under this option, receiving full credit in a study implies that the student’s work is completed at the C- or better level.

A student selects narrative-only evaluation when s/he first enrolls at Empire State College by signing a standard form, which describes this option. The student’s choice is entered into the academic records system and is visible to study tutors/component mentors and primary mentors. The college’s academic records system blocks submission of letter grades for students who choose narrative-only evaluation.

A student may change to the standard narrative-plus-letter-grade alternative by submitting a signed request. Grades are awarded for studies beginning with the next enrollment after the student submits the request. The college does not later assign grades for Empire State College studies undertaken prior to the request.

A student may change to narrative-only evaluation, by submitting a signed request. Grades are no longer awarded in studies beginning with the next enrollment after the student submits the request. Grades accompanying prior narrative evaluations remain a part of the student’s academic record and transcript.

The narrative-only option is available only to Empire State College students. All students who cross register at Empire State College from other institutions receive letter grades with narrative evaluations.

There are a few additional circumstances in which the narrative-only option is not available. Existing examples include contract programs within the Center for Distance Learning (e.g., eArmyU). Any additional exceptions require approval by the Undergraduate Studies and Policies Committee and the provost/vice president for academic affairs.

Letter Grades

Empire State College considers narrative evaluation to be central to its educational program. However, the college also recognizes that many students need letter grades for external purposes. Thus, the student record includes a narrative evaluation and a letter grade.

Empire State College emphasizes academic achievement in its assessment of students. Therefore, a student who does not earn credit in a study is awarded a “no credit” outcome rather than a failing letter grade.

Empire State Colleges uses a 4.0 grading scale.

The grade assigned to an undergraduate learning component completed at Empire State College may be any of the following: A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, or D-. Unsuccessful study results in an outcome of “no credit” rather than a letter grade.

Narrative-only Evaluation for Specific Studies

An Empire State College student may select narrative-only evaluation for up to 12 credits of Empire State College study. Under this option, receiving credit implies that the student’s work is completed at the C- or better level.

The student selects narrative-only evaluation for a study at the time of enrollment, through a notation on the learning contract proposal (registration form). The student’s choice is entered into the academic records system and is visible to study tutors/component mentors and primary mentors. The college’s academic records system blocks submission of letter grades for students who choose narrative-only evaluation.

The college does not later award letter grades for such studies, nor include such studies in the student’s G.P.A.

Status of C and D Grades
  • Empire State College learning contracts and courses: a grade of D- or better is required for Empire State College to award credit.
  • Transcript credit: Empire State College accepts D grades (including D-) only as part of a completed associate degree program (A.A., A.S. or A.A.S.). For all other transcript credit, a letter grade of C- or better is required for Empire State College to accept the credit toward a degree.
  • Cross registration: Empire State College requires a letter grade of C or better to award credit for courses completed through cross registration at other colleges or universities.

Relationship Between Narrative Evaluations and Letter Grades

A narrative evaluation provides an explanation for the award of academic credit. The letter grade and narrative for a study should be consistent with one another. However, a narrative need not be completely one-sided. For example, a high grade may accompany a narrative that documents strong student performance and also includes suggestions for further development. Similarly, a low grade may accompany a narrative that documents weak overall performance with some areas of strength.

Assignment of Grades to Credit by Evaluation Components

Empire State College does not assign grades to credit by evaluation components.

Procedure for Retroactive Assignment of Grades

For much of its history, Empire State College provided narrative evaluations without letter grades. On occasion, a student who received narrative evaluations would later request that the college assign letter grades to the narratives. When such a request was received, the college, where possible, added letter grades to the narratives.

For students matriculated at Empire State College before July 1, 2004, the college will continue to respond to student requests, consistent with the procedure that follows. For students who matriculate after that date, there will be no later assignment of letter grades to narrative evaluations.

The procedure for retroactive assignment of grades is as follows:

1. For each Empire State College contract component for which the original tutor/instructor is available, the tutor is responsible for assigning a letter grade based on the contract evaluation and the tutor’s records and recollection of the student’s work in the study. If the tutor is no longer available, or if the tutor is not able to make a letter grade judgment, no letter grade is assigned.

In exceptional circumstances, this procedure cannot fully meet a student’s needs. In such a case, the dean consults the provost/vice president for academic affairs on appropriate alternatives.

2. The dean forwards the letter grades to the college registrar.

3. The registrar adds the letter grades to the narrative evaluations, and thereby includes them in the student’s official transcript.

Repeated Studies

When a student repeats a study, the more recent evaluation for the repeated study replaces the original outcome and narrative, for purposes of the award of credit, inclusion in the transcript and calculation of a grade point average. Note that both the original and the repeated study must still be included in the satisfactory academic progress (SAP) calculation.

Grade Point Average (G.P.A.) Calculation

The college registrar calculates the grade point average and includes the G.P.A. in the student transcript. The G.P.A. calculation at Empire State College is:
  • based only on Empire State College studies for which a letter grade is assigned. This includes courses for which a student cross registers at another institution and which Empire State College treats as part of the Empire State College studies for the degree.
  • based only on credit earned at Empire State College, and is not based on prior transfer credit or credit by evaluation components.
  • based only on credit completed and does not reflect study that results in no credit.
  • included as part of the student’s official transcript.

The following outcomes are included in the grade point average:

Quality Points

The following outcomes are not included in the grade point average:
CR (credit used when credit is earned and no letter grade is assigned)
IN (incomplete)
DR (drop)
NC (no credit)
WD (withdrawal)

Minimum Grade Point Average Requirement

Empire State College undergraduate students must maintain a 2.0 G.P.A. A student who has completed at least 8 credits at Empire State College and whose cumulative G.P.A. is below 2.0 is placed on academic warning. If a student who is on academic warning still has a cumulative G.P.A. of less than 2.0 after earning 16 additional credits at Empire State College (i.e., after earning a total of at least 24 credits at Empire State College), the student is academically dismissed.

Grade Point Average and Academic Standing

The grade point average is one of two criteria that establish the student’s academic standing with the college. The other is the student’s academic progress rate. A student who meets these two criteria is in good academic standing and therefore maintains her/his eligibility to re-enroll. These and other criteria apply to eligibility to receive financial aid. See the Policy on Satisfactory Academic Progress and the statements on Eligibility for NYS and Federal Financial Aid.

Appeal of Grades and Narrative Evaluations

A student may appeal a grade or narrative evaluation as provided in the Student Academic Appeals Policy.

Empire State College Transcript

An Empire State College transcript includes a cover sheet showing the source, title and credit amount of each component included in the degree, followed by narrative evaluations and grades for studies completed at Empire State College. When a G.P.A. is calculated, the transcript includes the G.P.A. on a separate page and specifies the studies on which it is based.

The college documents successful study on student transcripts while maintaining internal records of enrollment history. Thus, the official Empire State College transcript documents credit completed. The transcript does not provide an enrollment history that includes unsuccessful study with the college. The college catalog and transcript include a notice to this effect.

Policy Review

The Undergraduate Studies and Policies Committee will review this policy and make further recommendations two years after implementation.

* Programmatic exceptions to this dual evaluation model require approval by the Undergraduate Studies and Policies Committee and the provost/vice president for academic affairs. The one current exception to the use of narrative evaluations is the associate degree program for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) apprentices offered through the Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. Center for Labor Studies. By combining a skilled apprenticeship with academic study, the program enables IBEW apprentices to earn an associate degree. This program offers a fixed curriculum through classroom instruction, with limited opportunity to individualize student learning. Therefore, letter grades, and not narrative evaluations, are the means of evaluating and documenting student performance in this program. This program awards letter grades in accordance with college-wide policies and procedures.

Revised: July 2006
Approved: July 17, 2003

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