Sculpted by Students: Students discuss the way they shape their own grades

Sculpted by Students: Students discuss the way they shape their own grades

Photo Illustration by Nicole Kim

Glenn* ’19 felt a wave of relief as he made his way through the quad. He had just passed his teacher, who confirmed that his quarter grade had been successfully changed.
Despite original assurance from his teacher that his grade was a B+, a flat B stared back at Glenn when he initially opened the student portal the night before. After talking with his teacher, the B was changed to his rightfully earned B+.

“Grades are really important to me, and I work hard for my grades, so seeing a grade that was wrong really invalidated my work,” Glenn said. “I had been anxious about the error, so knowing that it was fixed was a huge weight off my shoulders.”

Looking back on the incident, Glenn said he was impressed with the school’s grade change system. Besides adding stress to his day, the grading error did not negatively affect Glenn or his report card, he said.

“Teachers are allowed to mess up, and if we had a grading system in which you couldn’t change grades afterwards, that would allow mistakes to go through,” Glenn said.
Although there is no official grade change policy in the Parent Student Handbook, Glenn’s situation was resolved in accordance with traditional school protocol.

Grade changes at school must all go through Registrar Virginia Schroeder, upper school dean Jennifer Cardillo said. In all cases, the teacher must report the corrected grade to Schroeder, who is the only faculty member with the authority to alter a student’s report card.

“It’s a very internal process,” Schroeder said. “I’m the person who’s just turning the gears, so to speak.”

While Schroeder said that she carries out a grade change typically only when a teacher miscalculates a grade or a student turns in a late paper, this protocol is not universally used among Los Angeles private schools.

The Buckley School underwent an investigation last month following accusations that Head of School James Busby changed the grades of Board of Trustees members’ children.

The investigation concluded that while five students in the Buckley community had their grades changed by Busby over the past five years, he acted within his discretion and gave no preferential treatment to board members’ children, according to a letter from the Board of Trustees sent Feb. 15.

Despite the findings of the investigation, Buckley students participated in a sit-in protest to call for repercussions and transparency regarding the allegations, and the Buckley community urged Busby to resign.

“I felt it was within our Head of School James Busby’s rights to change grades under the precedent of ‘extenuating circumstances,’ but the effects and impacts of the lack of transparency and communication have caused an adverse shift in our community, despite the mere speculation of wrongdoing,” Editor-in-chief of Buckley newspaper The Student Voice Elliot Choi said in an email.

In light of the Buckley incident, Harvard-Westlake has made it clear that a similar situation would not be possible due to current protocol.

“We would never change a student’s grade without the teacher being involved in recognizing that a mistake had been made,” President Rick Commons said. “I would never act unilaterally. If there were some question about whether it should be changed, it wouldn’t be just the teacher and me. It would be the Head of the Upper School, probably the Associate Head of School and the Department Head.”

While a grade change cannot be initiated and discussed by just one person, the school tries to limit the number of people involved. Deans try to not intervene in the grades that students receive and often first advise the student to speak directly with the teacher, Cardillo said.

“I think [the deans] would also add a layer to that, which would be a little bit of counseling students about how important it is for them to be trusting and respectful of their teachers’ assessments and not head into a meeting going to battle for a grade,” Cardillo said.

Despite assurance from the school, Finn* ’20 said he was shocked to find out about the Buckley allegations, and the incident prompted him to think about the potential of a similar situation at Harvard-Westlake.

He now feels the need to be more conscious of grading at school to ensure that no one benefits from an unfair advantage, he said.

“If anything like that happened at Harvard-Westlake, I feel like the community bond would be broken,” Finn said. “Harvard-Westlake paints itself to be a very communal school, and I feel that the kids all have the mentality that we are working and striving to do great together rather than separately.”

Glenn also fears that a similar grade-changing incident at the school would undermine the trust among students, teachers and administrators, he said.

“The thing that makes me nervous is I truly feel that if administrators changed grades and kids were hush-hush about it and deans were hush-hush about it, you very easily could have something like that happen at [Harvard-Westlake] and no one would ever know,” Glenn said. “But obviously there is nothing to support that that would happen. However, [if it happened], that would absolutely be a violation of respect for the teachers.”

For Hannah* ’19, however, the suggestion to reevaluate her grade came from her teacher.

Following a quarter with a substitute teacher in which her grade dropped from an A- to a B, Hannah’s teacher approached her to discuss the drop and decided that she should take a second look to determine if the grading was too harsh.

“I felt really upset [with the grade] because it was not something I would expect of myself,” Hannah said. “I was super confused as to what I did wrong. When she approached me to tell me she was going to reconsider my grade, I was super relieved because I thought there was no way to change what I got.”

After a discussion with her dean and previous teacher, Hannah’s essays were re-graded by the department. Although her grade was not adjusted for the semester, the essay scores will be reconsidered if they make a dramatic impact on her year-end grade.

“I was impressed by the lengths my teacher took to give me a fair grade,” Hannah said. “Generally it was unfair because we had a substitute who had never taught at Harvard-Westlake, and we had to adjust to a completely different style of writing in the middle of the semester. I’m confident my teacher will give me the fair grade I deserve, and I don’t think she’ll make it higher to compensate.”

Glenn also was impressed with his teacher’s dedication to accurately represent his grade on his report card, as well as the efficiency of the school’s grade change protocol, he said.

“I mentioned [the error] off handedly, and I was expecting it would not be fixed or that he would just take it into account for the next quarter, but a couple of hours later I talked to him and he said he fixed it,” Glenn said. “I am happy that it did not become a big deal and I am really, really happy that the school has it together enough so that these grade changes are not a big deal and they are done so efficiently and quickly.”

*Names have been changed.

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