TA grading privileges revoked

Based on his concerns related to student privacy and potential violation of California Ed. Code 49066, Principal Brent Kline has reinstated the expectation that student TAs cannot grade or evaluate other students’ work.

While his directive has upset some teachers and TAs, Kline said he is merely following an agreement that the school’s Ed Council agreed to a few years ago.

“Last year, we didn’t have teacher assistants grading because it was difficult to share (assignments) electronically,” Kline said. “There was an assumption that this would continue when we came back on campus, so it was me trying to reach back to what I thought we had agreed upon.”

Kline said the school has to follow state policy when it comes to ensuring the teacher is the one grading and providing feedback. Ed Code 49066 says teachers determine students’ final grades.

“I would think that as a student you would want the feedback from the teacher as opposed to to a peer,” Kline said. “The number one person to receive that information from students Is the teacher because that’s going to help guide what you’re doing next time.”

In addition to teachers being the most qualified individuals to grade student work, Kline said he doesn’t think students should see their peers grades.

“We have to think that there are also privacy concerns,” Kline said. “And again, the teacher is the one that is solely responsible for providing grades, so I think that’s who should be looking at student work to provide feedback.”

Kline said his privacy concerns stem from the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Part of FERPA says school officials cannot have access to student records unless their normal job requires access. Moreover, leaving papers with personally identifiable information for anyone to see, including TAs, is considered a violation of FERPA, Kline said.

“With FERPA, technically a random student isn’t allowed to look at student work,” Kline said.

However, Mark Hiestand, senior legal counsel at the Student Press Law Center said it isn’t clear that a graded paper, without more, is a record protected by FERPA. The Supreme Court case Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo ruled that the practice of students trading papers in class does not violate FERPA. Therefore, Hiestand says it is probably not a violation of FERPA for a TA to grade student work, even if Kline doesn’t agree.

“I was told by our district lawyers that it was a violation, so that’s what I’m going to base my decision off of,” Kline said.

While no teachers would agree to go on the record for this story, Kline said he knows some faculty were upset with his directive and the way it was rolled out. Kline said he did not gather teacher input before announcing the change but has since gathered more faculty feedback in an attempt to come to a compromise.

“That announcement didn’t go so well, so we spent several weeks after that conversation to collect more information,” Kline said. “What we’ve ended up with is that TAs are only able to look for completion of work and provide that information for teachers but no grades and feedback tickets.” 

Senior Franklin Wang, a Physics Honors TA for Cecilia Walsh, said he agrees with Kline’s privacy concerns but said the limitation in Kline’s directive on TAs makes it harder for teachers. 

“I think it would be better if teachers had a choice and (could) decide whether or not they trust students to grade,” Wang said. “I think it’s nice to give teachers that control especially since they have limited amounts of time.”

However, after coming to an agreement with teachers that TAs can check assignments for completion, Kline said he feels the policy is finalized. 

Kline said, “I don’t know if there’s anything to change about it right now, but I don’t see any necessity to improve it, because it’s pretty clear right now.”