By Dave Palmer
School is filled with pressure, whether it be from peers, extra-curricular activities, parents, an after-school job, the list goes on, with grades not the least of students’ concerns. Sometimes, a student cannot avoid being absent, and needs to make up an assignment. Sometimes, the assignment requires a measure of class participation or teamwork that doesn not necessarily equate to what the rest of the class did during school, but is still acceptable.
Bowen Bethards of California is one such student who had to miss school due to an adoption hearing. No big deal, because he told his teacher in advance that he would be absent and arranged a make-up date, right?
Bethards claims that when he arrived on the scheduled date for his make-up, his teacher Peggy Carlock (who no longer works at the school) refused to let him make up the assignment and instead told him that he would fail. Complaints placed by Laureen Bethards on her son’s behalf escalated all the way to the Albany Unified School District’s superintendent, Marla Stephenson, and resulted in a $10,000 government claim filed against the District by the Bethards last year. The district rejected the claim, but changed her son’s grade to a B. The Bethards say that the grade should be changed to an A+ because Bowen had an overall grade of 106% before the lab was missed.
Now, instead of trying to resolve the problem in conference with administration, Carlock and parents, the Bethards are turning to the courts to resolve the conflict. The Bethards are seeking unspecified monetary damages along with a change of the overall grade to an A+. Unfortunately (and mysteriously), Carlock could not be reached for comment.
This is unfortunate, because as an educator, I would dearly like to hear the teacher’s side of this. Did the student arrive on time for the make-up assignment, or did he come a half an hour late? Was the student confused about the agreed-upon make up date, and came a few days later? More importantly, how does one manage to complete more than 100% of required course material?
While I can’t answer the former two questions, I know that the fast and easy answer to the latter is through extra credit. Perhaps the student truly was an overachiever and completed every assignment and all the extra credit assignments. Another likelihood is that the student had a lower grade prior to being allowed to complete enough extra credit that it added up to 106% .
So if the math added up to 106% before the assignment in question, the only type of grade that might justify a deduction to B- or C+ is a midterm exam or final or some project that was worth 20% or more of the grade. (This is not uncommon for large projects or major exams) Did the teacher and student agree on a date prior to the time these grades were due to be reported?
As an educator, I would never set a date for make-up work that occurred after a deadline for grades. If a student responded that the date I proposed was not convenient and countered with a date past the grade due date, I would be sure to tell the student that would be impossible because of grade deadline and warn the student that if the assignment is not made up before that date, THEN it would become a zero.
The 106% overall grade also indicates that the teacher may have been accepting too much extra credit. This could have been under pressure from Bethards’ and other parents, or could be an ill-conceived attempt to provide an opportunity to help struggling students that ended up benefitting the students who didn’t necessarily need the extra credit more than intended.
My advice for Ms. Carlock and other teachers who want to offer extra credit, but not run into having to report to the school district a 106% overall grade, only offer extra credit to students who have all assignments completed and are still struggling. That way, you don’t have to allow students missing assignments to use extra credit to pull their grades to passing, and students who are doing well will most likely not ask for extra assignments based on this policy.
Hopefully, any idea that the Bethards are even remotely entitled to monetary damages based on a grade will be thrown out with great prejudice, and the teacher will be given the opportunity to either defend her classroom policy or agree to change the grade whether it be due to mathematical error or judgment error.
It is utterly ridiculous that this particular dispute could not be settled between administration, Ms. Carlock, and the Bethards outside of a courtroom. It is ludicrous that the Bethards seem to believe that they are entitled to collect punitive damages for a teacher’s decision. Moreover, it is disgraceful that these parents choose to question the professional integrity of Ms. Carlock in a court of law.
If the school district loses, this case will set a precedent for students to freely question the grade they earned and give them recourse to pursue a better grade in court regardless of their personal circumstance. If the school district wins, they are still out the legal fees, and are still open to challenge about the professional conduct of their staff despite the fact that the allegations proved false. Either way, the schools lose, and American students are once again told that if you don’t like your personal outcome, sue for a better one.