Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.
Dear Legal Mailbag:
My school district is quite affluent, and parents here are quite engaged in their children’s education, which has its blessings and its challenges. One of the challenges here is the constant discussion of grades. I am used to the questions and complaints, and most of the time I am able simply to hold the line against requests and even demands as parents appeal to me to change a grade they think is too low.
Sometimes, however, parents have a valid claim. Today, for example, a parent came to visit, armed for battle. She showed me an essay on which her son had received a C-, and she showed me the rubric that the teacher had shared with students. The parent persuasively argued that the teacher had unfairly graded the paper, and she urged me to read the essay. I did so, and the essay was actually quite good. I told her that I would look into it.
I followed up with the teacher, and I was appalled at what I heard. The teacher was sullen and uncooperative, antagonized that anyone would challenge his grading. However, he was unable to provide any rational basis on which he had given this essay a grade of C-. I am inclined to exercise my superior judgment and give this deserving student the A grade that I think he earned. Can I rely on my 092 certificate to do what is right here?
Making the Grade
You should have signed your letter “Making the Grade Up.” Grading is the responsibility of the teacher; and, despite your impressive credential, I do not see how you could grade one paper in isolation or grade a student’s performance without knowing a whole lot more. You do not have the authority to change grades, up or down.
That said, I have no reason to quarrel with your determination that the teacher did a poor job in grading here. Assessment of student performance is an important responsibility of teachers, one over which you have supervisory responsibility. Teachers should be able to defend their decisions and to show you that their decisions are sound. You should not micromanage, of course, but when a teacher gives a grade that is not defensible, you have a legitimate supervisory issue.
The question is what to do when you find that a teacher’s grading is deficient. In the first instance, you can certainly ask the teacher to review the situation, and sometimes teachers themselves will take corrective action. Given that you are not the teacher and did not participate in the class, I am loath to advise that you can in fact change a grade over a teacher’s objection. However, in extreme cases, you may vacate the grade (giving the student credit for the work or the course, as appropriate), so that the student is not harmed by the teacher’s poor professional judgment. Moreover, you will then have to deal with the teacher on his or her poor grading practices, first by way of help and support, and then, if necessary, through disciplinary action.
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