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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