Friday, March 27, 2009

Above The Law

I don't know what it is about some administrators. How do they they think they can get away with blatantly violating the law?

At my own school, for instance, teachers now charge illegal fees a little more surreptitiously than in the past, and our principal seems to make no effort to make it stop--he's certainly not put his foot down, by any stretch, and his boss has fought me every step of the way in my fight against these fees.

That, however, doesn't floor me as much as what I read in the March 2009 issue of the CTA mouthpiece rag. If only part of it is true, this story of administrator chutzpah is still horrifying:

The Education Code plainly states that teachers have the right to determine a student's final grade. And that right was upheld recently when a Superior Court Judge ruled that administrators violated the law by changing the final grades of 89 students attending Central Valley High School in Ceres last year.

The grade changes were made months after teachers had submitted the grades and without the teachers' consent...

Changing grades based on test scores was adopted by the district as an "incentive" for students to try harder on (standardized) tests. Grades were made higher--often increasing by as much as one letter--and never lowered...

Teachers learned that the new grading policy would be initiated when they were informed by their principal that he was sending a proposal to be approved by the superintendent. Teachers were then asked whether they wanted the policy to apply to one semester's grade or to both. They were sent a consent form asking whether they would prefer to have clerical staff make changes to grades or change grades themselves. There was no option on the form to decline.

English teacher Susan Engstrom and social studies teacher Mirilyn Wood refused to vote on whether the policy should be for one or two semesters--and also refused to sign the form--on the basis that the policy was illegal, based on Education Code section 49066...

The two CUTA members were ordered to meet with administrators and accused of insubordination and unprofessional conduct. Letters of reprimand were placed in their personnel files.

So they took the case to court and won. What California Educator doesn't tell us, though, is whether the ruling included an order by the judge to have the letters of reprimand removed, apologies given, etc. You'd think for a union magazine, those would be big parts of the story. Their absence is a beacon to me.

And what does Section 49066, one of my favorite sections of ed code, say?

49066. (a) When grades are given for any course of instruction taught in a school district, the grade given to each pupil shall be the grade determined by the teacher of the course and the determination of the pupil's grade by the teacher, in the absence of clerical or mechanical mistake, fraud, bad faith, or incompetency, shall be final.
(b) The governing board of the school district and the superintendent of such district shall not order a pupil's grade to be changed unless the teacher who determined such grade is, to the extent practicable, given an opportunity to state orally, in writing, or both, the reasons for which such grade was given and is, to the extent practicable, included in all discussions relating to the changing of such grade.
(c) No grade of a pupil participating in a physical education class, however, may be adversely affected due to the fact that the pupil does not wear standardized physical education apparel where the failure to wear such apparel arises from circumstances beyond the control of the pupil.

How any administrator could think, in light of the law quoted above, that he'd get away with what the Ceres principal tried to do, is far beyond me.

4 comments:

rightwingprof said...

Wait. The administration inflated grades to provide incentive for students to do better? Please tell me how the logic behind that works.

Darren said...

I believe you have to have undergone the administrative lobotomy to understand that "logic".

Ellen K said...

The reason I left teaching the first time, at age 27, was due to a similar circumstance. At the time, I had a student who was an elite athlete, but who never showed up for class. He was heavily recruited by a successful private school in the north Texas area (not SMU...). He showed up for about five days of classes the entire year. I have no idea what repercussions this had on his playing time, but he never missed a football game or a track meet in the entire time I taught there. I gave him the lowest numeric grade allowed at the time, a 30. He came back the day before graduation to THANK ME FOR PASSING HIM. This is before No Pass/No Play laws were in effect. I went to the principal and asked who changed his grade from a 30 to an 80. I was told that his status as a highly recruited athlete was more important than his grade. The principal was a former football coach and spent his spare time playing golf with the head coaches. I quit on the last day it was allowed that summer. I didn't go back to teaching for 20 years. For most teachers, the last control we have on students are their grades. We don't even have behavior marks anymore. So when a teacher puts a grade on a student's work, with all the gravitas of proof and double-checking that entails, it's no small thing. For any administrator to run behind the back of a teacher and change grades is unethical, unprofessional and just plain wrong. Is that clear enough?

Susan E said...

My response to this blog is coming very late, but the last part of the saga concerning CUSD’s attempt to change Ms Wood’s and my grades to boost student CST scores has finally fallen into place. The CTA lawyer forced the district to remove and destroy the disciplinary letters placed in our files (after a meeting with the head of HR during which I was told there was “some code” that prohibited this). This didn’t happen until October of this year – nine months after the Superior Court of Stanislaus County ruled that the district’s command to us to sign a waiver was an illegal act.
By the way, I thought the definition of “waiver” is to voluntarily sign away one’s right. There was nothing voluntary about the coercion applied to Marilyn and me to force us to sign such a detrimental document.
I know that lots of folks have issues with unions, but in our case, CTA was instrumental in helping Marilyn and me stand up to a district that was willing to spend over $100,000 in order to undermine the teacher’s professional discretion in assessing student progress/achievement. Without this essential ability, teachers become camp counselors and babysitters; no insult intended, but I believe we are charged with the very important responsibility of helping young people learn to think for themselves and make their own decisions based upon their own evaluations of their surroundings.
Allowing districts to change grades based upon their own definition of achievement – which in this case, was really only a mechanism to further the career of an administrator, the end effect on the kids be damned – is not what is best for students. I thank CTA for the support, both legal and emotional, it lent in this fight to preserve educational standards.