Grading for Goudeau: Louisiana Teacher Sues To Be Able To Give Failing Grades

Sheila Goudeau was reportedly brought in to Riveroaks Elementary School to help the school raise grades and do better in the Louisiana Educational Assessment Test (LEAP) annual certification. The former nominee for teacher of the year, however, was allegedly told by the school’s principal, Shilonda Shamlin, that she was not allowed to give anyone failing grades.

Goudeau complied with the policy and did not give any grade lower than a “D.” However, she eventually filed a grievance on this issue. She says that she was then monitored, harassed, and generally abused in front of her students.

She is now demanding damages for a wide range of injuries from severe and extreme mental pain to loss of sleep to loss of earning capacity.

The lawsuit raises an interesting tension between the right of teachers to independently assess students under the state’s grading system and the right of a principal to establish policies (and change) grades. All schools generally reserve the right to change grades without the approval of students. Indeed, grievance procedures often involve determinations that grades were improperly or inaccurately given. However, here the school is changing the state grading scale by eliminating a whole category. Yet the state policy still states that grades run from A to F.

Teachers are often forced to raise grades due to established grading curves — a practice that can become controversial at graduate schools where schools try to mirror the curves of competitors so not to put their students at a disadvantage. Harvard Law School, for example, has long had one of the most generous curves — forcing other top schools to move to avoid the appearance that their students are lower achievers. That process can result in a type of race to the bottom (on in this case to the top of the grading curve). I have given Fs and Ds, though I know many academics who avoid such grades.

Having just finished grading for this term, I must confess considerable sympathy for Goudeau. I also believe that it is a terrible mistake to convey to students that they cannot fail. It is a way of processing students into society without the needed minimal skills that they need to function — let alone flourish — in society.

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11 thoughts on “Grading for Goudeau: Louisiana Teacher Sues To Be Able To Give Failing Grades”

  1. We want teachers to be accountable for their students, and then we want them to prove their worth. But at the same time, we don’t want them to be able to assess their students with honesty, leading to the misguided belief that teachers with students that aren’t learning the material are mysteries that only standardized testing can catch. So we want the students tested and then we assess the teachers based on the student performance, but we won’t take into account whether the teacher gave an individual student an A or an F. If a teacher has a group of failing students that fail a standardized test, is that a bad teacher? Some would say yes. I worry more about a teacher with a bunch of highly-graded students that can’t pass a test, but accountability is only a one-way street to the testing proponents.

  2. Our public school system uses the E-U grading system at the elementary level. Each subject is also broken down into several additional 1 or 2 sentence categories that each receive a 4-1 grade, plus the teacher writes a paragraph for each subject explaining exactly what the child is doing and what the E-U and 4-1 means for that child’s progress. The report card often runs to 3 pages. All my children and grandchildren have gone through this system and received an excellent education. It can be done.

    After graduation from high school, they go to a Jesuit University because, in my opinion, the Jesuits know how to assist young adults in learning to think. Plus, the Jesuits place a strong emphasis on community service.

    No one in my family is Catholic … or even a regular church attendee.

  3. here in Fl they teach for the test. everything depends on passing the FCAT at the end of the year. i saw one poor girl spend three years in the 3rd grade yet her grades were in the b-c range. she would get so flustered by the test and the idea the questions had to be answered in order she couldn’t think.

  4. The mis-assumption being made by some here is that our public Educational system is set up to educate. It is constructed to produce a malleable population of workers. That some teachers, like Elaine actually succeed in providing education is a tribute to them and not the system. The E to U system she mentions is an excellent one and provided a less stigmatizing method of measuring progress. Structurally though the endemic problem is that different children have different rates of learning and our system is unequipped to deal with that.

    Back in the 50’s and 60’s I was labeled an “underachiever” because I didn’t do homework and acted out in class. This despite the fact that my reading scores in 6th grade had me at a college level. I managed to go to college and graduate schools on full tuition scholarships, while always maintaining C minuses as grades. Looking back on it I’ve learned to have great respect for those who made up for personal deficiencies with hard work. Until I learned that lesson for myself I was going nowhere, but having “fun” doing it.

    Under this current system there needs to be measures provided of effort given. I would suggest though that the system be scrapped in favor of one that actually teaches knowledge and assists children in learning to think, rather than being based on mass production methods of education. Fat chance!

    As for the issue of curves and testing I like the idea of some curve because the problem with tests are that it is hard for a teacher/professor to know whether the test they produce is a fair test of knowledge. I do remember though that in Grad School, in a sociological statistics course the highest real mark on the mid term was 36, I got a 24 and wound up with a B minus. I have no way of knowing if the test measured the teacher’s test designing competence, his teaching competence or the student’s lack of competence.

  5. Is this school a training ground for future LSU Football players? Some schools in Texas have been known to pass the damn fools so that they can play and attend college. That makes the whole bubba system work. Or is that W? Sometimes a distinction without a di9fference.

    LA should just call it the W system under the No Child Left Behind…..

  6. Elaine M.

    I wish that all teachers looked at grading systems as you do. As a parent of both an elementary and a high school student, I want to know immediately if either of my children are struggling in any area, and provide them with the assistance that they need and where they need it. While seeing A’s & B’s ( A’s are actually almost unacheivable in our school system as an A grade suggestes that the student is in fact working at a grade level above where he is ), they mean absolutely nothing if my child is unable to perform the tasks required at grade level.
    The report cards that are brought home here have a combination of a number grade, generic skills ( which are graded on the Excellent – Unsatifactory system that you mentioned ) and teacher comments which outline where kids are doing well, and where improvements need to be made.
    I do have concerns with schools which effectively ban the use of ‘F’ grades, or keeping students back a grade until they learn the necessary skills to move on. If students are consistently passed through the system without learning the skills from previous grade levels they are not prepared to learn the next chapter. This further discourages children who become increasingly frustrated because they ” just don’t get it “.
    The real solution for molding successful students is providing more resourses to schools. When teachers recognize that a student is struggling he or she should have access to educational assistants to work one on one with each student to generate success.

  7. I was an elementary school teacher for more than thirty years. Over time, I had to grade students using a number of different report card scales/formats. The one I liked best for young students:
    E = Excellent
    S = Satisfactory
    N = Needs Improvement
    U = Unsatisfactory

    We teachers also used pluses and minuses when grading. In addition, we noted whether students were working above grade level, on grade level, or below grade level in reading and math. The report cards had spaces for brief teacher comments where we could include additional information about a student’s progress/problems. We rarely gave children unsatisfactory grades. These report cards provided parents with a pretty good indication of how their children were doing in school.

    Mespo said: “The simple truth is that there is little to be gained by frustrating a child of tender years by literally branding them a failure at anything.”

    I agree. Some children feel defeated at too early an age. BUT I also feel that a child and his/her parents should not be given a false sense of a child’s abilities and school achievement. There were times when I got students who were given inflated grades the previous year. Their parents didn’t have a true picture of their children’s abilities and progress. Some were unaware that their children were experiencing educational difficulties and were struggling in school. Parents should have a clear understanding of their children’s learning problems and learning styles so that they and the teachers can work together to help the children succeed and progress.

  8. Conversely teaching children that failure doesn’t exist by never subjecting them to it does them no favor either, mespo. Learning to get back up is as important as learning how to fall down without harming yourself. This is not just a basic precept of martial arts, but applies to all of life.

  9. It’s an interesting issue. When I was in law school, the policy was a standard bell-shaped curve — thus as many A’s as F’s. The school even published the policy on our transcripts. I thought it a disadvantage at the time, and still do today. I understand the policy has been modified but exists in some form now.

    In this case, it is the prerogative of the principal, in conjunction with the school board, to set the standards for the school. While the statute permits A to F grading, I don’t believe it is mandated that some children in elementary school receive failing grades.

    The simple truth is that there is little to be gained by frustrating a child of tender years by literally branding them a failure at anything. The subjective nature of grading and the cultural bias of tests amply reject any notion of absolute validity of assessments.

    Here are some famous assessments and the people who overcame them. I wonder about those who didn’t:

    # Beethoven’s music teacher once told him that as a composer, he was hopeless.
    # Winston Churchill failed in the 6th grade.
    # John Creasy, the English novelist who wrote 564 books, was rejected 753 times before he became established.
    # Charles Darwin’s father told him he would amount to nothing and would be a disgrace to himself and his family.
    # Walt Disney was fired by the editor of a newspaper because he, Disney, had “no good ideas”.
    # When Thomas Edison was a boy his teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything.
    # Isaac Newton failed at running the family farm and did poorly in school.
    # Steven Spielberg dropped out of high school in his sophomore year. He was persuaded to come back and placed in a learning disabled class. He lasted a month.

    On balance, I think the principal has this right.

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