N. Branford board working on grade-change policy

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD – The Board of Education has started work on a new policy to govern grade changes, following up on recommendations made by the state attorney general’s office and a law firm the board hired.

The board’s policy subcommittee has put together a draft policy regarding the “assignment and changing of student grades.” The draft was distributed to board members at their last regular meeting.

The new policy comes in the wake of an investigation by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal into allegations of grade tampering at North Branford High School.

Last month, the attorney general’s office released a report concluding that there was insufficient evidence of “pervasive improper grade manipulation or grade tampering,” but there were a few instances in which grades were inappropriately changed.

Blumenthal’s report and an earlier one prepared by the Berchem, Moses & Devlin law firm – which reached similar conclusions – recommended the school district develop firm guidelines for handling grade changes. According to Blumenthal’s office, the North Branford schools and others in the state need to implement “explicit, clear procedures and standards” for dealing with such situations.

Board Chairwoman Cheryl Smith said the policy subcommittee, of which she is a member, started working with some school administrators on the grading policy about a month ago.

“There was no policy that clearly indicated how and what the process should be should there be a need for grade changing, and grade changing happens all over the state and country for various reasons,” Smith said. “So we decided as a board that we would like that to be more specific and make sure that there’s a forum for teachers to be able to voice their opinions and be the primary grader for kids.”

The draft policy states the schools’ grading systems “shall recognize and support teachers as having primary responsibility for the assignment of grades.”

Principals will have authority to review teachers’ grades and can recommend corrective means like additional work if a grade has been improperly assigned.
Before changing a grade, the principal will have to meet with the teacher and go over his or her explanation of the given grade. Any new grades will be reported to the superintendent and documented as part of the student’s record.

Smith said she thinks the final policy will be similar to the draft under discussion. In the next few weeks, board members will be able to offer comments on the draft, and it may come up for a vote at the next regular meeting on Nov. 14.

“I’m very happy with it and I’m glad that we’re starting something, and maybe other districts in the state will follow suit,” she said.

The district is already using a new form teachers and administrators have to sign in order to change a grade, and a computer system that records changes.

Superintendent Robert Wolfe said that there are often circumstances when a teacher decides a student has done enough extra work or demonstrated mastery of a subject to warrant changing his or her grade.

Blumenthal’s and Berchem, Moses & Devlin’s reports also said it is common and acceptable for teachers or administrators to change grades in such instances.

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