Is Your Grading Ready for a Legal Challenge?

Music teachers rarely wind up in court over a grade given to a student, but it could happen.

In this month’s Music Educators Journal, Joshua Russell discusses how assessment practices of music educators need to be backed up by their administrations. He also describes the importance of documenting the reasons for the grades you give.

Citing some of the litigation that has come before American courts, Russell states that some of these cases might affect the way music educators assess their students.

He expects the number of legal challenges to grades to increase in the future, and suggests that music teachers

  • Provide a written grading policy consistent with state and federal laws.
  • Rely on academic judgments instead of factors such as attitude or attendance.
  • Provide students with clear guidelines and a fair hearing, as well as the chance to appeal grades.
  • Policies and any sanctions should be fair, and any sanctions should be proportional to the offense.
  • Offer students opportunities for constructive makeup work, as well as provide and more due process rather than less.
  • Know and follow school policies, and make sure all other school staff do the same.
  • Adequately document what they and their students do at all stages.

“Taking the time to consider the assessment process may help music educators not only avoid grade challenges but, more important, better assess their students. Improved assessment will lead to better feedback for students and will ultimately result in improved music instruction and student outcomes,” says Russell.

MENC member Joshua Russell is an assistant professor of music education at the Hartt School of the University of Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut. Read his complete article, “Assessment and Case Law: Implications for the Grading Practices of Music Educators,” in the March 2011 issue of Music Educators Journal, Vol. 97, no. 3, pp. 35-39.

–Ella Wilcox, March 23, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (