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Lodi Unified School District exploring new policies to change grades

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Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:44 am, Tue Oct 4, 2011.

When former Liberty High School principal Robert Rivas reportedly changed pass/fail marks to letter grades, he only made one mistake: He did not get teacher approval.

Under policies in place at the time, Lodi Unified School District allowed the switching of pass/fail to letter grades and granted broad latitude to principals in determining what procedures and practices they wished to follow. According to an informal survey of other districts by the News-Sentinel, such flexibility — and the ability to change pass/fail to letter grades — is quite rare.

Now, rocked by the grade-changing scandal, Lodi Unified is exploring new controls on how grades are changed.

“We are recommending a district process so we can have a consistent practice at each of the schools,” Assistant Superintendent Odie Douglas said Monday. “As a unified district, we need a unified practice.”

He is presenting a report at tonight’s school board meeting that could be a step in that direction.

Lodi Unified had a procedure allowing the conversion of pass/fail grades to letter grades at the high school level. So long as teachers were willing to make the change, it was not inappropriate to do so, according to Douglas.

However, the process came into question earlier this year when Rivas reportedly changed pass/fail grades into letter grades, as required for students to gain admission to a Humphreys College program involving trustee Ken Davis.

Rivas initially said he asked teachers to calculate letter grades from pass/fail and that they complied, according to an attorney’s report released in August.

However, he later admitted that he directed some grades to be changed, a direct violation of state education code.

Rivas was placed on paid administrative leave in April, until his pre-planned retirement at the end of June.

Proper procedures?

When it comes to grade changes, each district adopts its own policies as long as they are in alignment with the state education code.

Most schools have their policies in their school handbooks available to students and parents, according to assistant professor Tony Serna, who teaches education law classes at University of the Pacific.

“Teachers have the responsibility of giving students grades. Principals, superintendents and school boards cannot force a teacher to change a grade,” he said.

As for changing a pass/fail mark to a letter grade, Serna said he was not aware of an instance and surmised that would only happen if no district policy was in place.

Lodi Unified’s grade-changing policy does not specifically address pass/fail grades, as policy is set by the board.

“The board does not micro-manage grade changes,” Douglas said, adding that the procedure has differed depending on the campus.

In the past, a teacher would talk to the school registrar and ask that a pass mark be changed to a letter grade if a student had a need for a grade-point average to enroll in a college or specific program.

And while Douglas admitted it would be unusual, a teacher under the previous practice could also request a fail mark be changed to a letter grade if there was a significant reason. This might include extensive missing student work that was turned in at the last minute.

Rivas was directed by Douglas’ predecessors to align the grading practices at Liberty High with each of the other secondary schools, according to Douglas.

Last school year, the pass/fail system was eliminated.

Grade changes are handled differently in area school districts based on their individual policies. Typically, in case of a bookkeeping error, the change request is submitted directly to the school registrar and the change made.

In Galt, for example, when there is a concern about a grade, a student or parent will notify the teacher. If he or she has made a mistake in the calculation, the teacher will fill out a grade-change form and submit the form to the registrar. If the teacher did not make a mistake, they will review the calculation and grading policy with student and parent, and the grade will remain the same.

At Liberty Ranch, for example, grades are changed fewer than 10 times year, Superintendent Daisy Lee said.

The district used to employ a pass/fail system only for student assistants who signed up to help teachers. But that was discontinued years ago, Lee said.

San Joaquin County Office of Education’s one program still uses the pass/fail system.

Its instructors believe that all kids can learn given the appropriate amount of time and instructional strategy. Therefore, students of the program only earn a pass upon learning the material, according to spokeswoman Jacqueline Ratto.

“For this reason, grades are not given to students. We want kids to all function at a higher level, with a belief that it is never OK for a student to earn a grade of a C,” she said.

Without a grade-point average, Ratto said, students can take an aptitude test such as the SAT or ACT to be accepted into an institution of higher learning.

“Although the UC and state systems don’t accept the pass system, private universities do,” she said.

She is unclear whether there is policy that allows teachers to change pass/fail grades to letter grades.

Administrators not permitted

Under state education law, neither a superintendent nor a school board trustee can order a student’s grade to be changed. The process has to be initiated by a parent or teacher.

At tonight’s Lodi Unified school board meeting, Douglas will discuss a computer program that uses a secure Web form that only teachers could access and would require an authentication process. A cost figure has not been released.

A student’s ID, a reason for changing the grade and a report card would be required. Then the grade-change request would be sent via email notification to the school’s registrar, who would review the information before emailing it to the school’s principal for a final approval.

Once a change is made, a hard copy would be printed and placed in the student’s folder, and a new report card would be given out.

Tonight’s meeting starts at 7 in the James Areida Education Support Center, 1305 E. Vine St., Lodi.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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