I was speaking to a principal friend of mine a few weeks ago named Robert. Robert is employed in a county in the western part of Virginia. He informed me that his county had established a policy to give SOL type assessments to their students at the end of first semester. The tests were developed by the specialists, and the schools were not allowed to see the questions prior to the testing date. Due to the changes in Standards of Learning (SOL’s) tests, many of the specialists were not sure what types of questions should be added to the assessments. The Department of Education released only 10 sample questions as a guide for the counties around Virginia. The schools in Robert’s county were given a directive to not review prior to these assessments. The rationale behind this was to get “a true picture of where the students were at that point in the year.” It was also mandated that the assessments be counted as a quiz grade. The rationale behind this was because many principals felt students would not take it seriously if it did not have a grade attached to it.
This created an ethical issue for Robert. He said that he was very torn between what his personal beliefs were and his county’s directive. He felt that it was not fair to give students an assessment without reviewing for it. Robert explained that if you are holding the student accountable by attaching a grade to the assessment, it was only fair to give them a chance to review. He had doubts about this policy; however, due to its regulatory nature, and the possible penalties for not following it, Robert implemented it at his school. He was very surprised that none of the teachers at his school came to him with the same questions about the ethical issues of the policy.
After the assessment results were analyzed, it was apparent that the majority of schools did poorly on them. Several specialists and others began to question the legitimacy of the tests as predictors of students’ academic performance in terms of SOL’s. After Robert reviewed his school’s data, he noticed that the majority of his students failed the assessments. Many received grades below 50. Robert decided that it would be unethical to still hold the students accountable. He made a decision to allow the teachers to remove the assessment as a quiz grade from the students’ records.
Robert knew that he was putting his job on the line, but he was willing to take that chance. The decision did not come easy for him. Robert told me that he contemplated over what could possibly happen. He thought about those on his staff that were not fond of his leadership style. They could see this as a way to try to discredit him as a leader, and report this action to his supervisor. Robert told me that he prepared for the phone call and how he would justify his decision to his supervisor. However, during a principal meeting, it was evident that several other principals in Robert’s county were feeling the same way about the assessments. Their director gave them the choice about whether or not to count the assessments at their individual schools.
This seems like a happy ending because Robert wasn’t reprimanded for going against the regulatory policy. However, I asked Robert how he would feel if he was penalized for making that decision based on his values and what he thought was the ethical thing to do. Would this make him more cautious about questioning directives in the future? If the “cost” of doing the right thing meant he could lose his job next time, would he still make the decision? In the current state of the economy, could he afford to lose his job for what he felt was an ethical issue based on his values? Robert’s supervisor may have seen it as not a matter of ethics. To him it may be just an employee not following a directive. After listening to Robert’s ethical issue, I wondered what I would do in his situation. Can you really follow Kant’s Categorical Imperative when your job may be at stake?