Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 2001/ 14 Kislev, 5762

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

The disappearing art of grading -- KRISTJA FALVO wins the OPM award for 2001. OPM is an over-protective mother. Past winners include Rose Kennedy during the Teddy manslaughter days, Queen Elizabeth during Charles' Diana/Camilla affair days and all mothers of preschoolers who force their cherubs into helmets for riding bikes so tiny that the pink handle bar streamers touch the ground. A tumble on training wheels defies death's sting so long as OPM, armed with Consumer Reports and all manner of body armor, is near.

OPM Falvo protests an Owasso School District (Oklahoma) practice of students grading each other's papers. Mrs. Falvo uncovered this barbaric system because her special education son, Philip Pletan, was increasingly nervous about his mainstream class that he attended 3 days per week and apparently bombed.

Mrs. Falvo sued the Owasso District alleging in-class grading to be a violation of Fourteenth Amendment privacy protections as well as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (Buckley Amendment or FERPA). She won the FERPA issue at the federal appellate court. The U.S. Supreme Court will now hear the case.

So many cranks, so little column space. First, Philip. Having a special ed student in a mainstream class only 3 days per week may be part of the problem. Mainstreaming special ed kids at all is the piece de resistance of this litigation, but that bureaucratic nightmare is fodder for another column.

Mrs. Falvo. She declined the district's existing universal offer for students to opt for confidential grading. She had more axes to grind. Her two daughters, Elizabeth and Erica Pletan, "A" students, complained that the public grading process imposed pressure on them to give their friends better grades. OPM Falvo seeks to save her daughters and all Owasso children from being honest in the face of peer pressure. Removing round robin grading will not halt this eternal childhood conundrum.

Mrs. Falvo is one of those mothers to whom teachers justifiably point and say, "If parents would stay out of things, we might be able to make some progress." Those in public education are wrong 90% of the time, but they have a point when they discuss the Falvo model of meddlesome, overprotective, and contrary parents.

FERPA. This inane law pits parent against child and puts education in the middle. Parents who are providing full financial support for their children in college will do so sans grade feedback. ASU would not certify that my daughter was an honor student for purposes of our auto insurance discount. When I pointed out that she was on the publicly released dean's list, officials agreed to sign a form for the Allstate agent, if my daughter granted permission, something she readily did because I'm paying!

FERPA is a law for the hypersensitive conceived in the minds of egalitarians who fear academic superiority. It's not the privacy they're regulating - it's the stratification. Now the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether children's papers graded in class are considered a "record" under the law and whether the exchange of such "records" violated this federal law on educational privacy.

Schools and teachers. While Mrs. Falvo should find something better to do than fuss litigiously about the inconsequential, schoolteachers' grading practices are slothful. Teachers have been taking a path of ease in their grading responsibilities that increasingly serves to divorce them from their charges.

The Owasso grading exchange is the old-fashioned method teachers have used to ease grading responsibilities. Schools these days enlist mother volunteers for grading papers. This practice is a clear FERPA violation, more so than classroom grading.

Volunteer grading mothers are prissy types who overdo it not only with the stickers, smiley faces and stamps but also with officious practices such as marking every problem wrong because answers weren't aligned. Other mother volunteers do the copying for teachers. More mothers handle the class parties. There are mothers who decorate teachers' bulletin boards. More mothers teach art. The students go to music, PE and the library where other teachers carry the load. Don't forget recesses and lunch.

Teaching is rugged. In their brief in the Falvo case, Owasso officials had the nerve to assert that eliminating classroom grading would result in a decline in the quality of education for teachers' time would go to grading their charges' papers. Grading the quizzes and essays of my 200 graduate students consumes nights and weekends. But it is only by seeing those individual efforts that I know what's getting through, who's having trouble and what needs work. Even if I were offered grading assistance (no mothers have stepped forward), I'd refuse. Grading is teaching.

Mrs. Falvo's suit is silly and abusive litigation. However, she's right about the grading, just not for the reasons listed in her suit. Grading is for teachers, not mothers or students. Grading is not busy work. Grading is teaching, the quality kind.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings