OKLAHOMA case raises privacy concerns of paper-swapping - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

OKLAHOMA case raises privacy concerns of paper-swapping

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ When Alicia Bata needs quick results from a quiz in her Spanish class, she has her students pass their work to classmates and then goes over the answers with them. In a few minutes, she knows who understood the lesson and who did not.

``They are paying a lot more attention when they are correcting each others' (papers) in the classroom together than if I were,'' said Bata, who teaches in Cavalier, N.D.

That practice could be in jeopardy because the Supreme Court has agreed to decide if swapping papers to correct them violates students' privacy rights.

Teachers gathered for the National Education Association convention last week were divided on the issue. They said they regularly must balance the need to give students timely feedback with the confidentiality of their grades.

The issue arose in 1998, when Kristja J. Falvo sued the Owasso, Okla., school district, contending that her three children were embarrassed when classmates graded each other's work and called out grades to the teacher.

A federal judge rejected her claim. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, however, ruled last year that the grading practice violated the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits schools from releasing students' records without parents' written consent.

Officials with Oklahoma school district and at the NEA say the case raises doubts about many other forms of exhibiting or releasing students' work.

``I think it can be read to cover any work,'' Michael Simpson, the NEA's assistant general counsel.

He said the case could prohibit teachers from allowing parent volunteers to check papers. It could also prevent schools from displaying graded student artwork and science projects.

Teachers said the Denver ruling has made superintendents and principals think twice about publishing honor rolls, ``student of the month'' lists or lists of students with perfect attendance because the citations reflect confidential records.

Delegates of the NEA, the nation's largest teachers union, last week approved filing a brief with the Supreme Court in support of the school district.

Shannon Fornes, an eighth-grade U.S. history teacher in Bismarck, N.D., said asking students to swap papers is essential for her because she teaches five classes and 130 students a day.

``If in some cases there's going to be immediate feedback, it has to happen in the classroom, and so the kids are either going to have to correct their own work or exchange papers and do some correcting,'' she said.

Maureen Pontarelli, a sixth-grade teacher in West Greenwich, R.I., agreed.

``The quicker the reinforcement, especially if the kid is not mastering the concept, the better it is going to be for remediating that,'' she said.

Pontarelli said teachers battle the perception that those who let children grade each others' papers go home at night and ``watch the soap operas, sit on the couch eating bonbons with their feet up.''

As an indication of the complexity of the issue, most teachers said that, as parents, they see it a bit differently, and do not necessarily like the idea of students grading each others' papers.

John Marshall, a social studies teacher at Mount Hope High School in Bristol, R.I., said he never lets his students correct or even see each other's papers.

``I don't think it's right,'' he said. ``I think it's my responsibility to grade those papers.''

Tests and quizzes come back face-down, he said, sparing embarrassment to students who earn low grades. Marshall also lets students decide if they want their work displayed.

About the only things on public display most days, he said, are students' performances in debates and discussions.

Gail Kono, a fifth-grade teacher in Waipahu, Hawaii, said paper-swapping is more widely accepted in elementary school, where it helps students learn to work together.

``The first thing you have to do is have the students in your class understand that they need to respect each other, that everybody's strong points are in different areas,'' she said. ``It doesn't mean that they can't do it, it just means that they need a little help.''

Most teachers, Pontarelli said, would never let students grade important tests or those that have a significant effect on a student's grades.

She said the controversy is baffling because teachers often hear the complaint from the business world that public school students graduate without the ability to work together.

``In the real world, there are people who are going to see your work product,'' she said. ``You know what? In the real world, there are people who are going to be critical of your work product.''
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