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Published in Print: October 21, 1998, as Court Asked To Weigh Legality of Grading System

Court Asked To Weigh Legality of Grading System

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An Oklahoma mother who says her children have been ridiculed by classmates has asked a federal court to end the practice of having students grade each other's papers and then calling the grades aloud.

Although the practice is common in schools around the country, Kristja J. Falvo said it has embarrassed three of her children, who attend schools in grades 6, 7, and 8 in the Owasso district near Tulsa.

Ms. Falvo asked a federal district court in Tulsa last week to halt the practice immediately, claiming it violates students' constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment by disclosing private information.

Her lawsuit against the district also contends that the practice violates the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by releasing student records without authorization.

The suit asked the court to declare the practice illegal and order the district to pay compensatory damages, including the cost of counseling Ms. Falvo's 12-year-old son, Philip Pletan.

At press time last week, U.S. District Judge Terry C. Kern had not ruled on the request for a preliminary injunction.

The 6,300-student district, in a brief submitted for last week's hearing, rejected Ms. Falvo's claims and stated that when such peer grading is used, papers are returned afterward to students, who then have the option of reporting their scores confidentially at the teacher's desk or reading them aloud from their seats.

"A test or grade does not become part of a student's educational record until it is turned into the teacher," said Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education. "That may sound like hairsplitting, but unfortunately that's the way we've had to interpret the [FERPA] act."

The district argued also that individual grades fall outside the protection of the 14th Amendment.

Learning Disability

The district maintained that Ms. Falvo's children never objected to the grading practice, they did not generally use the option of reporting their grades in confidence, and they suffered no harm.

Ms. Falvo officially complained to school personnel only about her son Philip, now a 7th grader at the Owasso 7th Grade Center who is classified as having a learning disability, the district said.

After she complained to the principal in April, Ms. Falvo said, she was told that Philip could bring his papers forward individually. But that accommodation still singled him out, she contends.

She claimed that her children suffered embarrassment from the grading custom since the family moved to the state in January 1997 from Nebraska, where the schools did not use that method.

Vol. 18, Issue 8, Page 3

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