Cases in the Ethics of Grading: Jodi Warren and Mr. Kennedy

The following is my fourth and final (as far as I know) in a series of hypothetical cases meant to raise questions about grading practices. I'd like to recognize Kenneth Strike and Jonas Soltis for their book "The Ethics of Teaching," which inspired the style and structure of this case. Enjoy and discuss!

Louis Kennedy and Jodi Warren are two teachers within the Metro City School District. Louis is a popular fifth grade teacher at Worthington Elementary and Jodi is a new, 23-year-old sixth grade English teacher at Carter Middle School. Most of the students at Worthington Elementary matriculate to Carter Middle, and many of Jodi's students had Mr. Kennedy as their fifth grade teacher.

At her very first day at the school, Jodi Warren listened to her principal preach some of the reforms they were instituting that year at Carter Middle. The biggest change was the enforcement of course requirements and credits that must be earned before being moved on to high school. "No more social promotion!" the principal cried. "We will teach these kids to be responsible and prepare them for high school!" Jodi wanted to be tough her first year of teaching, so this was a philosophy she was willing to get behind, even at the sixth grade level. She'd heard horror stories of teachers who were pushovers and let the kids run the classroom, and she was determined to not be one of those teachers.

Several months passed and Jodi stuck to her plans of holding kids responsible and grading rigorously but fairly. Many students were earning grades of C or lower, but Jodi did not seem too concerned, as she had always viewed a C as an average grade. At the end of October, she faced her first parent teacher conferences. Parents were not happy. Conference after conference, Jodi listened to parents make comments like, "This is the worst grade my student has ever gotten," and "My son was doing much better in Mr. Kennedy's class last year." Jodi tried to explain the new expectations at Carter Middle, and how it was part of a plan to better prepare students for the rigor of high school. "Well, my daughter has As and Bs in all of her other classes," some would reply. Jodi also learned that a number of the parents had already complained to the principal about her ineffectiveness as a teacher, and it did not appear that her principal gave her much support. Jodi left school that night with serious doubts about her future as a teacher, wondering if her teaching really had been so poor despite her best efforts.

The next day Jodi attended a district workshop where she had an opportunity to work with other teachers, including Louis Kennedy. Jodi was curious to hear if Louis had experienced problems similar to those she was having with students Louis had taught the year before. Maybe she could gain some insight as to what she was doing wrong, or pick up advice from a popular fellow teacher. When Jodi asked about trying to be a tough grader, Louis gave her a surprising reply. "We give A-F grades in fifth grade, but I never take it too seriously. They don't count for anything. They don't end up on a transcript for college or factor into a GPA. A few years ago I had given a couple students Ds and Fs, and I found out that it only created animosity between myself and the students. They weren't happy in class anymore and parents assumed I was doing a bad job. Now I never give a grade below a C, everyone seems to be happier, and I have an easier job connecting with struggling students."

Jodi is now unsure what she should do. If she suddenly raises her students' grades, she'll become the easy pushover she did not want to be. If she keeps grading the way she is, parents will think she is not a good teacher and that could put her future as a teacher at risk. If she complains about Mr. Kennedy's easy grading practices she'll be seen as whiny and a tattle-tale, a trait she despises in her students.

  1. Does it make a difference that Jodi is a new teacher, and has several years of teaching before she receives tenure?
  2. Given Jodi's choices (raise grades and be a pushover, be firm on grades and risk her career, or complain about Mr. Kennedy) which would you choose and why?