NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 8, 2013

A new twist on the old grading system


Newburyport Daily News

---- — Imagine a world where a student unhappy with a college grade could get a judge to change it.

What would that world look like? Academic chaos, we would argue.

So we are pleased to learn an effort to have a judge intervene in the grading decision at a Pennsylvania university has failed. Any other ruling would have been disastrous for education.

The specific case at hand involved a student at Lehigh University, Megan Thode, who filed suit seeking to have a C-plus grade she had received in a therapy internship course revised.

As a result of that grade, Thode did not qualify for the master’s degree in counseling psychology she was seeking. And, as a result of that, she argued in court that she was losing an estimated $1.3 million in lifetime income because she didn’t possess the desired degree.

In her lawsuit, Thode didn’t simply claim she deserved a higher grade. Instead, she said her C-plus was attributable to a zero grade she had received in participation in the program. She was given this grade despite a record that showed she had attended all her classes.

Thode said the participation grade had nothing to do with her classroom work. Instead, she charged it was because she is a strong advocate for gay marriage in her personal activities, and the instructor giving the grade is opposed to gay marriage.

Such an allegation sounds serious, but in court, Thode could not document it. And while Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano found it odd that someone could be given a zero for participation in the class — something that had never happened in the school’s history — he said he had no legal authority to overturn the grade.

That’s the way it should be.

In court, Lehigh professors portrayed Thode as an argumentative student who had difficulty taking criticism and relating properly with others. Supposedly, several professors conferred before the zero grade was awarded.

When it comes to giving classroom grades on subjective matters (as opposed to tests with specific answers), there will always be judgment calls made. But out of necessity, educators and schools need to be acknowledged as the final arbiters. Having a judge intervene would lead to horrible consequences.

Such a precedent would encourage other students to file similar suits. And the only real effect would be trying to replace the subjective decisions of educators with the subjective decisions of judges.