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GRADE-A DISPUTE TURNS LAUSD UPSIDE DOWN.

Byline: Jennifer Radcliffe Staff Writer

WOODLAND HILLS - When honors student Amanda Wolin got the first two B's of her life last year, her parents feared it would ruin her chance of competing for valedictorian of Taft High School.

The nine-month fight by Amanda's parents to raise the grades to A's has caused a stir in the Los Angeles Unified School District, all the way up to the school board. Members tried to duck being the court of last resort so they wouldn't be caught between the concerns of parents, the teachers union and the state Education Code.

Wolin's parents are frustrated. They won their case on appeal, only to see an assistant superintendent overturn that decision and restore the original B's. Now, they find themselves caught up in school board politics.

`It's not just Amanda, our daughter, that's being cheated. It's all the kids that these teachers are supposed to be teaching,'' said Wolin's mother, Amy.

``They just make up the rules as they go.''

On March 9, the board voted to remove itself as the final arbiter in all grade-change disputes, although the Education Code gives parents the right to appeal record changes.

On Thursday, the district backed down and agreed to have the board consider the case next month, but still intends to delegate responsibility in most future cases to Superintendent Roy Romer.

On their first appeal to a special grade review panel - which nearly always sides with teachers over students - the Wolins got a recommendation to raise Amanda's two B's to A's after finding her teachers ``incompetent'' and ``acting in bad faith.''

But the panel's recommendation was rejected by Bud Jacobs, an assistant superintendent at the district office, who asked the committee to re- examine its findings. When the committee met again and came to the same conclusion, Jacobs dismissed it and sided with the teachers.

``The union's very strong on this, and rightfully so. It's not our business to change grades unless there's really a problem,'' Jacobs said.

Jacobs then drafted the policy change to delegate the board's appeal authority to Romer, saying it would to save the board's time for more important issues.

But board member David Tokofsky said requests for grade changes are rare, and that his colleagues just wanted to avoid a messy issue.

``In the more than 500 board meetings I've attended, there's never been one before.''

The original appeal panel, headed by North Hollywood High Principal Randall Delling, found that Spanish teacher Sheilah Wilson-Serfaty gave Amanda a B although the final grade book, bubble roster and verification roster all showed an A.

The panel also questioned why English teacher Arthur Berchin allowed classmates to grade each other's work and did not review the assignments himself.

``We find there are enough indicators that the teacher was incompetent in the management and conducting of his evaluation of Amanda's performance and that he acted in bad faith,'' Delling wrote of Berchin, a former dean at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Berchin and Wilson-Serfaty did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Retired LAUSD teacher Estelle Case, who was the parents' appointee to the advisory committee, defended the finding.

``We went over everything very carefully. It looked like she should have gotten the A's. It really isn't fair.''

Michael Hersher, an attorney for the California Department of Education, said the LAUSD's new policy seems to eliminate the grade-appeals process in the district.

``The whole concept of an appeal is that you're getting a whole fresh, new, independent look at the problem. If the policy just sort of loops it back to the original decision maker, that's not really an appeal. That does raise a procedural fairness issue.''

Although it backed down on Amanda's case, the board still intends to avoid similar cases.

Kevin Reed, LAUSD general interim counsel, said the board will hear only the appeals based on facts, not on a parent's opinion that a grade is unfair.

``When it's that kind of case, it's not going to go to the board. The board of education does not have the capacity to meet in closed session with every pupil who has a concern about their grade.''

School board member Jon Lauritzen said he didn't understand why the board was being pressured to approve the new policy.

``When it came through, I looked at it and I wondered what the heck it was all about. They were kind of pressuring us to get it through and I wondered why.''

Jennifer Radcliffe, (818) 713-3722

jennifer.radcliffe(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Amanda Wolin, center, and her parents, Amy and Jeff Wolin, are considering suing the LAUSD over B's an appeals panel said should have been A's, and which could keep her from becoming valedictorian.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 27, 2004
Words:795
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