Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter

Dear Legal Mailbag:

As an assistant principal, I receive complaints from time to time from parents about what they perceive to be unfair grading practices by some of the teachers in my building. Normally, I am dealing with a parent who should just get a life, and typically I simply listen politely to the parent, follow up with the teacher, and report back to the parent that the grade in question was fairly derived.

The complaint this week, however, was different. The parent was upset because her daughter received a “B” in European History first semester. Normally, that would not be an issue, but this student is one of the best in the school. She regularly receives “A” grades in her classes, and that “B” grade will hurt her grade point average. As is my practice, I checked in with the teacher to make sure that his grading methodology made sense.

Sadly, I was shocked when I talked with the teacher. His records were a mess, and he was unable to explain how he calculated the grades he assigned to that class, which by the way were all “B”s. I then asked him how it was possible that all the students in this class would earn the same grade, but the more I pressed for an explanation, the more convinced I became that he was just making up the grades.

I will be dealing with this teacher as a disciplinary matter. But I am now worried that this student will be harmed by this teacher’s poor performance. Given that the student is an “A” student, can I just give her the “A” that she almost certainly would have earned for the first semester if the teacher had been doing his job?

Righting a Wrong

Dear Righting:

In general, great deference should be given to the grades teachers assign, given that assessing student performance is a core responsibility for teachers. As with other areas of teacher performance, however, deference is not warranted when a teacher has not fulfilled this important responsibility appropriately. Legal Mailbag appreciates your concern for the student here. However, changing the student’s grade to “A” seems just as arbitrary as the teacher’s assigning grades without a rational basis. Moreover, from your preliminary review, it appears that this situation involves more than the one student and, perhaps, more than one class.

The first step is to conduct a more thorough investigation. As you conduct that investigation, the teacher will be entitled to union representation upon request, because, as you already anticipate, the results of that investigation may well result in disciplinary action against the teacher.

Second, in consultation with your superintendent, you should determine whether there is a board policy on the subject. You certainly do not want to compound the problem by violating a board policy as you work to remedy the situation.

Third, if your initial suspicion is confirmed that this teacher was irresponsible in assigning grades without a rational basis, disciplinary and remedial action is appropriate. As to disciplinary action, given the importance of accurate grading, this teacher should be subject to discipline up to and including a recommendation that his contract of employment be terminated. In taking disciplinary action, you and the administrative team will consider the extent of the misconduct and the disciplinary history, if any, of the teacher.

As to remedial action, you should be cautious and comprehensive. Given that you did not teach the course, Legal Mailbag cannot see how you would be able to assign new grades to the students. However, presumably you will be able to review enough student work through your investigation to determine whether students should be given credit for the course, as we may hope will be true for all. Moreover, you will want to check on the grading practices with the other courses this teacher is teaching. However, the question remains – what should be done with the grades he arbitrarily assigned?

There is no simple answer, but Legal Mailbag suggests that the appropriate course of action may be to vacate the letter grades but maintain students’ credit for this course (and any other course affected by this teacher’s misconduct). Legal Mailbag advises that you confer with your superintendent on both the action and the messaging to students and their parents before you take any action. However, the students did the work and (subject to your verification) earned the credit, but if the grades did not have a reasonable basis, they should not be included on the students’ transcript (or be considered in calculating the student’s grade point average).

Finally, while we are on the subject of grading, Legal Mailbag wants to make sure that you and your school district are aware of a change in the law. Section 13 of Public Act No. 21-199 amended Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220g. That statute provides that school boards should have adopted a written policy by July 1, 2021 that specifies the manner in which students’ grade point averages are calculated, including whether such grade point average is weighted or not weighted. Moreover, the law provides that parents must be advised “whether a grade in an honors class, advanced placement class, International Baccalaureate program, Cambridge International program, dual enrollment, dual credit or early college is or is not given added weight for purposes of calculating grade point average and determining class rank.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220g. You should determine whether your board of education has adopted such a policy, and when such policy is adopted, you and your administrative colleagues must follow that policy to provide the required notifications to parents.

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Photo of Thomas B. Mooney Thomas B. Mooney

Tom is chair emeritus of the School Law Practice Group and is active in all areas of school law, including labor negotiations for certified and non-certified staff, teacher tenure proceedings, grievance arbitration, freedom of information hearings, student disciplinary matters, special education disputes and…

Tom is chair emeritus of the School Law Practice Group and is active in all areas of school law, including labor negotiations for certified and non-certified staff, teacher tenure proceedings, grievance arbitration, freedom of information hearings, student disciplinary matters, special education disputes and all other legal proceedings involving boards of education. Tom is the author of A Practical Guide to Connecticut School Law (9th Edition, 2018), a comprehensive treatise on Connecticut school law, and two columns, “See You in Court!,” which appears in the CABE Journal, and “Legal Mailbag,” which appears in the CAS Bulletin.