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Student Progress Review

The Student Progress Review (SPR) requirement was implemented in 2017 at the request of students and faculty to support the regular exchange of constructive, written feedback between advisees and advisors. It codifies a process for research degree students and their special committees to have at least one formal conversation per year about academic progress and future plans. Using the SPR form, students are asked to reflect on their recent accomplishments, identify challenges, and set goals. Committee chairs then review their students’ SPR forms and enter constructive feedback. Chairs indicate whether progress has been excellent, satisfactory, needs improvement, or is unsatisfactory. Feedback that is documented on the SPR will be made available to the student, all members of the student’s special committee, and the DSG/GFA of the student’s field.

Overview of the SPR Process

Step 1:  Each graduate field sets its own timing and annual due dates for the SPR process; fields send students instructions and a link to the SPR form at the appropriate time.

Step 2:  Student schedules the SPR meeting with their advisor/chair (some fields may expect that this occur in conjunction with a meeting of the special committee). 

Step 3:  Student completes their portion of the SPR form.  Depending on the field’s practices, the student may submit the form at this point or download a draft version to share with their chair and other special committee members prior to submitting the form through the online system.

Step 4:  SPR face-to-face dialog

Step 5:  If the student saved their SPR form as a draft, they may edit the form after meeting with their chair and/or special committee.  Upon submission by the student, the form is routed to the special committee chair (after this point the student cannot edit the SPR form unless it is returned to them by their chair).

Step 6:  The special committee chair enters written comments and evaluates student progress. Depending on the field’s practices, the chair may incorporate feedback provided by other members of the special committee and graduate field.

Step 7:  Contents of the form will be available to the student, the student’s special committee, DGS, and GFA.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is required to complete a SPR? All MA, MS, and doctoral students in who are in the second year of their program or beyond must complete a SPR form each academic year. Students on leave of absence are excluded from this requirement.  

What is the deadline to complete the SPR? While the Graduate school simply requires that a SPR be completed once each academic year, each graduate field sets its own timeline for students and faculty to complete the SPR. To confirm when the SPR is due for your field please contact your GFA or DGS.

How long will it take to fill out the SPR form? For most students it should not be difficult or time-consuming to complete the self-reflection and goal-setting portions of the SPR process. If you run into difficulties or have questions it may be helpful to discuss these with your advisor. The online form allows you to save your responses and return later.

Some of the questions on the SPR don’t seem relevant to me.  What should I do? While most questions on the SPR form will be generally applicable to students across a range of fields and academic disciplines, some questions might not apply to your specific situation. It’s perfectly acceptable to note that a question is “Not Applicable,” or to contact your advisor or GFA for more specific instructions.

Can a student share a draft of the SPR form with their chair/committee prior to electronically signing and submitting the finished form? Yes; students may save their SPR form as a draft (without submitting) to download and share with their chair and/or special committee via email. They may then return to the online form and edit it before electronically signing and submitting it.  See the “SPR Form Tips for Students” (top of this page) for detailed instructions.

Who will see content of the completed SPR form? The purpose of the SPR form is to document, in writing, a conversation that should be happening between students and their mentors so the primary audience of the competed form is, of course, the student and the special committee. Graduate fields provide support and oversight to this advising relationship so the DGS and the GFA will also have access to completed forms. The final SPR, with comments from both the student and advisor, will be added to the student’s file. Staff of the Graduate School will not regularly review SPRs but may contact students who receive ratings of “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” to help develop support plans. 

Is a SPR needed if students and their advisors already communicate on a regular basis?  Most faculty advisors strive to provide regular, thoughtful feedback.  However, the Graduate School has frequently heard that students expect more structured feedback in writing. This is especially important for establishing shared and agreed-upon expectations, for overcoming information that may be incorrect or misunderstood, and for when problems arise. Additionally, research suggests that “formal annual evaluations tend to increase the numbers of students who complete, and are therefore preferable to sporadic and informal reviews . . . Some form of progress-tracking, annually or each semester, allows the student and supervisor to meet and establish objectives for the year. This ensures that both students and advisors be held accountable for timely progress and for constructive feedback” (Council of Graduate Schools, Ph.D. Completion and Attrition). 

In the SPR process, what is the role of the special committee chair?  It is expected that chairs will meet in person with their students to discuss the SPR (some fields may expect that this occur in conjunction with a meeting of the special committee). The SPR meeting provides an opportunity to discuss the student’s overall progress, provide feedback, clarify expectations, and establish shared objectives for the year.  

When a student electronically signs and submits the form, it is routed to their chair. After the form is submitted by the student, they are not able to make edits unless the form is returned to them by the chair using the “reject” function in the online system.

Chairs are expected to complete the Faculty Feedback section of the form after meeting with the student. Depending on the field’s practices, the chair may also incorporate feedback from the special committee. Core questions in the Faculty Feedback section ask for written comments about each student’s demonstrated strength and weaknesses, as well as an overall evaluation of the student’s progress. 

After reviewing a student’s entries, how can the advisor/chair return the SPR form to the student for further editing?  The advisor/chair may use the “reject” button at the bottom of the SPR form page to send the SPR form back to the student for revisions. The chair will have the opportunity to include a message to the student (e.g., “Please revise goals for the coming year and resubmit”).

What categories are used by faculty to evaluate student’s overall progress? 

  • Excellent – Exceeds expectations overall; progress and performance are exceptional in one or more areas.
  • Satisfactory – Reliably meeting expectations for academic progress and performance; planning and goal setting is realistic and appropriate.
    • Most students who are meeting the requirements of their program, making good progress, and developing and acting on thoughtful plans and goals should be assigned this rating.
  • Needs improvement – Academic progress and performance are not consistently of the quality needed to meet expectations.
    • This is a signal that some changes are required to get on track for successful completion of the degree. Obstacles and challenges must be addressed through appropriate planning, goal setting, and follow-through.  Sometimes a short-term disruption or setback can slow progress, but such challenges can usually be overcome with careful planning and targeted support. It’s important that students and committees develop a plan, make needed adjustments, and check-in with each other frequently.  This rating should serve as a clear communication to the student that improvement is needed, and to the special committee and graduate field that monitoring and support will be needed.
    • The Graduate School will contact the graduate field, special committee chair and student to share information about helpful resources and best practices for developing actionable improvement plans. 
  • Unsatisfactory – Academic progress has stalled and performance is below expectations.
    • This rating indicates that the student has made little or no academic progress in the preceding one or two semesters to the extent that lack of progress endangers their ability to complete their degree in an appropriate timeframe.  Students who are rated as “unsatisfactory” are not considered to be in good academic standing with the Graduate School and may be ineligible for fellowship or assistantship support until they return to good standing.
    • The Graduate School will require that students develop a detailed improvement plan with clear timeframes in coordination with their special committee and graduate field.  
    • The Graduate School will contact the graduate field, special committee and student with a message noting that the student is not considered to be in good academic standing.  The student will be required to submit for Graduate School approval their improvement plan and a timeline for returning to good standing, developed with input from the special committee chair. 
    • The Graduate School will enforce the terms of this plan.  If the terms are not met, the student may be withdrawn from their Cornell graduate program.