Care and Feeding

My Son’s Teacher Misgraded an Exam

Does my son just have to live with that mistake?

A boy looks sadly into the distance while he's at high school.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Jetta Productions/iStock/Getty Images Plus, Brian Niles/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature an assortment of teachers from across the country answering your education questions. Have a question for our teachers? Email askateacher@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

My son “Aaron” is a junior in high school, but he’s still dealing with some issues from his sophomore year history class. Last semester, Aaron scored poorly on his first history exam, but he noticed that one of the questions that was marked incorrectly should not have been. He pointed this out to his teacher, “Mr. Campbell,” but Mr. Campbell refused to give him the point for the question. Aaron felt like he was being shortchanged, so he told me about the situation.

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I decided to meet with Mr. Campbell personally, and he agreed to give Aaron the point back. However, he never gave Aaron the point back—I assumed he just forgot. Aaron and I figured that it was just one point, so at the time, we let it go. Unfortunately, that one point did matter. When the final scores were released, Aaron found that he was 0.35 percent away from a B in the class—and when he did the math, he found that if Mr. Campbell had given that one point back to him on the first exam, he would have gotten a B. Aaron was heartbroken. He worked harder for that class than he had for any other class he took as a sophomore, even though it’s not an honors or otherwise advanced course. Additionally, he has loved history for years and has aspirations to become a historian.

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While I know that hard work isn’t always rewarded, I didn’t think that it was fair for Aaron to get a C when he legitimately learned the material well enough to get a B, since it was a point that had been wrongly taken off of one of his assignments, and it dropped his grade to a C. We decided to ask Mr. Campbell once more about giving a point back on the first history exam, requesting a face-to-face meeting.

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Mr. Campbell’s response made us feel like he was trying his hardest to make sure that Aaron’s grade remained a C. He granted a Zoom meeting at 9 a.m., a time when I would be at work. We agreed to the meeting, with me taking his call during work. During the meeting, he was nothing but rude to us, and some of his reasoning seemed illogical. He entirely refused to give Aaron the point back on his first exam, despite admitting that Aaron’s answer was correct, and that he still had the ability to edit students’ grades.

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He called us “grade-fishers” and told us that he would no longer accept emails from any of us. Finally, he told us that he would let Aaron retake the final in the fall. If Aaron scored high enough to get a B (without the point given back on the first exam), then Mr. Campbell would give him a B. Otherwise, Aaron would keep his C. Aaron and I decided to take up the offer, and we have now been studying history all summer long, despite the fact that I have a suspicion that Mr. Campbell’s offer was against school (and potentially legal) policy.

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Now, the start of school has arrived, and Aaron must return to Mr. Campbell to take the final again. He’s terrified that Mr. Campbell will simply deny saying that he ever gave Aaron this opportunity. We have written evidence of Mr. Campbell’s offer, but it is not the most convincing—only two emails from Aaron mentioning it. There are no replies from Mr. Campbell, because he told us that he would no longer respond to any of our emails. The written evidence might not be enough to “convince” Mr. Campbell that he actually did offer Aaron the chance to retake his final.

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What should we do if Mr. Campbell either denies that he ever offered Aaron a chance to retake the final, or refuses to let him do it for other reasons? I don’t want to give up—we’ve already come this far, and I think Aaron really does deserve a B. Aaron is also insistent that we as a family do not just let this slide. But I fear that I’m overreacting. Yes, Aaron does deserve a B points-wise, but getting a C isn’t exactly the end of the world, and sometimes, life is unfair.

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At the same time, it is not as if Aaron is a slacker who has not turned in any assignments and is then asking for extra credit at the end of the semester. He only has a C because one point was wrongly deducted from one of his exam scores.

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Mr. Campbell said he would not meet with us again, so would the next step to be to go to the principal. If he refuses to let Aaron take the final, what should we do? Should we meet with the principal, or even the school board, and if so, what should we be preparing ourselves for? Or should we just let it all go?

—In Grade Distress

Dear In Grade Distress,

Oof, what a mess. I must admit that I’m curious what Mr. Campbell would say if I asked him his side of the story. What went down in that meeting that caused him to no longer accept any communication from you? And was that before or after he offered to let Aaron retake the final? I’m left wondering if Mr. Campbell is just an unreasonable, unfair person or if there are important details left out of your story. All that aside, I have known people like Mr. Campbell and, unfortunately, sometimes they become teachers and make everyone’s life miserable. So I’ll operate under the assumption that everything transpired the way you said it did.

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I suspect that Mr. Campbell is not going to make good on this offer to let Aaron retake the final. He said he would give Aaron his point on the first test but never did, and that would have been much easier to do than administering and grading a final exam for one student.

In this case, I’m not sure there’s much you can do. You could contact the Social Studies department chair and ask to see a copy of the department grade policy to determine whether Mr. Campbell has violated it. This might give you some standing with the principal if you decide to approach them. However, you should know that Mr. Campbell is likely the only person who can change Aaron’s grade since he was the “teacher of record.” The principal could potentially compel Mr. Campbell to make good on his promise to administer the final exam. Honestly, though, I don’t think the principal will want to get involved. They probably have more pressing issues than Aaron’s C. And school board members do not have jurisdiction over grading practices.

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Since Aaron spent his summer vacation studying history, I hope Mr. Campbell lets him take the test. If Mr. Campbell doesn’t allow it, and Aaron’s grade remains a C, I’m sure Aaron will be really disappointed and justifiably angry. I understand. When I was in high school, I earned a B in Driver’s Ed. This ruined my 4.0 GPA. During senior year, I discovered that Driver’s Ed grades were no longer factored into GPAs and so I asked the school to amend my GPA. However, because Driver’s Ed had somehow been classified as a PE credit, the grade had to stay on my transcript (and in my GPA). I was disappointed—what a dumb way to ruin a perfect grade point average. It seemed unfair that the school changed the rule to benefit other students but not me. Today, I’m 40 years old and I can say that I haven’t thought about that B in decades. It has caused me no problems in life, and I lose no sleep over it.

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Aaron is learning a hard lesson: life is unfair. More so, sometimes people in authority are reckless and cruel with their power. Aaron deserves that B, and he knows it even if his transcript never changes. Mr. Campbell might break his promise but he can’t take Aaron’s love of history away from him. This C won’t stop Aaron from becoming a historian if that’s what he wants to do.

—Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)

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My brother’s daughter is almost 6 years old and has not been put into school because of Covid. They tried preschool prior to that but the child’s teacher had difficulty controlling her and they took her out. Now my brother is now convinced that the school system is a broken archaic structure created to put kids somewhere while parents go to factory jobs, that regular school will squelch her love of learning, inhibit her creativity, subject her to the terror of other children and awful teachers, and is bent on “unschooling.”

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His unemployed common law wife is expecting another baby soon while my brother works from home. My niece is a sweet kid who, despite having some behavioral issues, wants to be around other children. They take her on day trips, go to museums and put her in swim lessons, but it’s not the same as being surrounded by your peers consistently to learn to share the ups-and-downs of what life brings.

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My concern is that my niece isn’t getting what she needs to learn how to function properly in the world amongst other people. Her language progression, social skills, and boundaries are outside the norm. She has no friends. It breaks my heart.

I’ve suggested that they try the school where my stepchild goes but “it’s too far away” (it’s a 30-minute drive; they both have vehicles). Private schools are too expensive, and the schools near their home are “full of hicks,” and they want to protect her from the mean children of those so-called hicks. I’ve brought up school A LOT over the past few years to try to gauge his thoughts so I can at least debate his contentions; my purpose is to ultimately get my niece into some sort of formalized education—even if it’s homeschooling—so she can get access to a consistent play group and work out these issues.

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I’m afraid that if her behavioral anomalies aren’t addressed now, it’s going to be twice as bad (and twice as hard) in the future. Soon, her mom is going to be busy with the new baby, her dad carries the household working from home. The laws in my state regarding homeschooling are unregulated so I have no hope of getting any help from authorities. I’ve suggested play groups, bought him books, and have walked the line to not ostracize his opinion so that he doesn’t close the door altogether on conversation regarding this subject.

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I don’t know what else I can do to help my niece. Between fears of Covid and this new bigotry against anyone who has different opinions/beliefs than their own, she’s basically been sentenced to the life of a hermit. An island of 3 (soon to be 4, inhabitants). Regardless of tantrums, hitting, and not knowing how to be told “no” because her parents don’t believe in it, she doesn’t deserve this isolation. No child does. I know it’s his child, his decision. But he doesn’t know anything about child psychology, child development or communication and the importance of social structures. How can I make him see that he doesn’t know best?

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—Concerned Aunt

Dear Concerned Aunt,

Sadly, I don’t think there is much hope in making your brother see what is best, at least not in the short term. He sounds fairly convinced about his estimation of the public school system, and absent any real-world experience with a school, I suspect that he will be unmoved regardless of what you might say.

My suggestion to you is this: Be a positive force in these children’s lives. Be respectful of their parents’ boundaries lest you risk limiting your contact with them, but seek to expand the children’s horizons whenever possible. Become another trusted adult to whom they can turn when needed.

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Many children grow up sheltered by their parents in any number of ways. Some continue on with their parents’ lifestyle as adults and are happy and productive people, but many blaze their own paths. Children are resilient, flexible in their thinking, and perfectly capable of breaking away from beliefs and philosophies that do not comport with their view of the world, even if it means separating themselves to some degree from their parents.

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These children may find this desire at some point, and they may require the support of family and friends like you to help them. Until then, be a source of inspiration for them. Seek to widen their world whenever possible. Introduce a variety of viewpoints into their lives when appropriate. In short, be a relentlessly positive, eternally effervescent, kick-ass aunt whom every child would love in their life.

As frustrating as it may be, that is likely the extent of your influence at this time.

—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)

My middle schooler has no interest in using a planner to keep track of his work. He’s pretty good at remembering deadlines and projects, but “just remembering” is not a great long-term solution. His school doesn’t have anything in place to train the kids to develop that skill. Any advice on helping kids use tools to plan and keep track of deadlines? I’m willing for him to learn the hard way, but I’d also like to have tools I can encourage or recommend when “just remembering” fails.

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—Planning the Hard Way

Dear Planning,

You know how personal trainers say the best workout plan is the one you’ll actually do? Well, the best organization tool for your son is the one he’ll actually use.

I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool day planner person. Every December, I spent hours searching for the exact right planner to suit the idea of Next Year’s Me. I relished transferring phone numbers and birthdays from the old to the new. Sometimes I tried color coding or bullet journaling. Once I got a smartphone, I added events to my digital calendar as well, but I still hauled the book around with me. I felt lost without it. Then I had kids. Now, I say, “Hey, Siri, set a timer for half an hour,” so I remember to turn off the soaker hose in the garden, or “Hey, Siri, remind me on the 27th of every month to pay my credit card bill.”

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Would he use a wall calendar or an app? Enlist a study buddy for accountability? Make a to-do list of five essential items every day after school? Write important due dates on sticky notes and stick them to the bathroom mirror? Create and follow an after-school schedule? Put dividers in his binder for the to-do’s and the have-done’s?

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Ask him what he thinks will work for him, and then experiment. He’ll figure it out. There will probably be some natural consequences that bring things into focus for him, but isn’t that how it is for all of us?

—Ms. Scott (high school teacher, North Carolina)

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My daughter is a freshman in high school, and she recently got an assignment in life sciences that seems inappropriate. The assignment is for the kids to identify someone in their family who died of cancer, and then students are supposed to research that kind of cancer and create a poster presentation to display for the entire school. This seems like a terrible idea, and an invasion of privacy. Should I talk to the teacher?

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