Typhani Harris | November 2014

Grades: Policy vs. Ethics

Grades: Policy vs. Ethics

Grading will always be a topic of debate, but what happens when the grading policy is in opposition of your ethical beliefs?  As educators, the grades policy we assign are based on the students’ abilities to prove mastery in the standards and expectations of our subjects.  And we have been hired as the masters of these standards and expectations, so when did it become acceptable for administration to override our say in student outcome?

Recently, I hit the conundrum of policy vs. ethics in my professional career.  I try my best to adhere to school policy. But, what happens when that policy undermines my credibility, and opposes my ethical beliefs?

This Situation Occurred as Follows:

After the first quarter, I diligently posted quarter grades policy. Each grade resembled the students progress toward mastery of the national standards. In addition to, efficacy of the participation and progress of my daily class expectations. Unfortunately, I have a student whom I never met still on my roster. This student never attended my class. I have no idea who this student is, or even what they looked like. So, I gave the student a zero.

Later, I was told by my administration that the grade had been changed to a 55. Additionally, in the future I am to give nothing less than a 55. I was astounded! So, not only had my educational credibility been compromised, but it was a common place policy that no students receives less than 55 on a grade report…even if they never attended the class.

The Grades Policy’ Value

I understand the original premise of this grades policy. The chance to give students an opportunity to jump out of a hole, and possibly redeem themselves. It is almost certain when students mess up, and dig themselves into a points/percentage value hole, it is difficult to climb out. And, as educators, we want to help them. We want to give them a chance to redeem themselves. So, ensuring students enter the 2nd quarter with no less than a 55 will give them a chance to be successful at the beginning of the semester. However, what does that say about the value of a grade?

As defined by Merriam-Webster a grade is: a number or letter that indicates how a student performed in a class or on a test.  So, how does automatically giving a student an arbitrary amount of points prove the students’ performance. Especially, if the student never attended the class?

Grades Policy dictates a 55 to keep the student in a realm of possibly being successful. However, ethically, how can I give a student points when they never attended the class, thus never performing? A grade is an indication of my ability to assess a student based on performance and standards. How could I possibly give a grade to someone I have never met.  By being forced to give a student 55 points, regardless of their performance (or attendance) in class, my credibility as a teacher is being demeaned.

It is imperative that we stand up for the credibility of our profession, and the expectations set forth by our national standards.  So when confronted that my grade was incorrect (according to school policy) I immediately responded I will not personally change the grade. Since, it goes against my ethical beliefs. This quickly backfired because, at that point, they changed the grade for me.  Yet, that is still a grade under my name, hinging on my credibility.

So what do we do when placed in this situation?

A) Have a conversation with your department chair.

Your department leader is the first line of defense when it comes to policies and procedures at your school.  Usually, they are adept at understanding the purpose behind certain policies. They should shed some light on the situation.

B) Speak to the administration.

Clarify the expectations on the policy and engage in a conversation of best practices.  If you see a problem, don’t hesitate to discuss it, but certainly come with a solution not just a complaint.

In this situation, I proposed the following solution: enact a No Credit, No Grade, or Incomplete replacement of an actual letter grade.  This would be more beneficial and acceptable for the situation allowing students to make up the credit missed.

I know standing up for your personal credibility in education can be scary, especially as a new teacher however, if we don’t stand strong on our ethical beliefs then someone will do it for us.

Next Week: Secrets of a Dance Teacher

Should Everyone Have the Opportunity to Perform?

My personal philosophy of performance has always been grounded in “if you can run the lights and the stage then you can perform in the lights on the stage”.  However, I have been charged with placing students on stage after 2 months of training, which is against my personal philosophy but is supported by many.  So, when is it too soon to perform…or is it?

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.