Parents say New Westminster teacher giving too many failing grades

More than 15 parents showed up at a Tuesday school board committee meeting this week to press concerns about a New Westminster secondary teacher who they claim is giving students too many failing grades.

They say earlier efforts to address the issue have fallen on deaf ears, and they are now seeking changes to the complaints process.

One of the parents, Kal Randhawa, said her concern started when she asked her daughter why she was struggling with Math 11, and the response was, “Well, everyone is failing.” Randhawa said when she saw the posted results from the year’s first two tests, she noted about 70 per cent of the 83 students in that teacher’s three classes were failing, a much higher rate than those of students being taught by others in the department.

Randhawa, an instructor at BCIT, said several years ago her older daughter also experienced poor grades from the same teacher.

In October, a group of parents spoke to the vice-principal who said the proper protocol was to talk to the teacher. Since it affected so many students, Randhawa felt this demonstrated that the administration was unwilling to deal with the complaint.

“I don’t think it should be up to a parent to confront them. It’s only going to mark your child,” said Randhawa. “It’s only human nature.”

The meeting with the teacher, she said, included a union representative. In that session, she was told the teacher wouldn’t talk about anything related to the classroom, only about an individual child’s progress in class.

An email to the department head came back with a response that the teacher was a senior skilled instructor and the head would not undermine the teacher’s professional autonomy, said Randhawa.

“How does [the department head] come up with this very good endorsement of this teacher,” said Randhawa. “Does this mean the math department think it’s acceptable that these three math classes are failing?”

She said further efforts to address the issue, including meeting assistant superintendent Al Balaniuk, did not lead to a satisfactory result.

“No one seems to be taking our complaints to a point where it is allowing anything positive to happen for these students,” said Randhawa. “For students to continue to fail exams it seems something should be done.”

Lisa Chao said she was shocked when her daughter, a straight-A student, was getting 70 per cent in her Math 11 class.

Chao saw evidence of the other poor grades when she went to speak to the teacher about her daughter’s performance.

“During our meeting, (the teacher) pulled out the sheet of marks,” Chao said. “Down the page I saw D, D, D, D, two C-minuses, a C-plus, which was my daughter, and the rest of the page was Ds and Es.”

Chao said her issue isn’t just with this one particular teacher, but with how onerous the grievance process is. She said those procedures can be especially taxing for parents in a multicultural community like New Westminster.

“When you’re having concerns about the teacher themselves, it’s very difficult as a parent to go in there and have that conversation,” she said.  “To do that with English as a second language—even when you have a good grasp on it—it’s very difficult to choose your words and be understood. When your English isn’t even that good, that’s impossible.”

Chao wants to see summer school fees reimbursed, counselling for students embarrassed by low marks and the opportunity for students to choose the teachers they believe would be most effective for them.

“There needs to be some sort of checks and balances. And there’s no accountability here,” she said.

New Westminster Teachers’ Union president Grant Osborne said New Westminster already has a clear process where parents and students must first consult with the teacher, then the school-based administrative officer and finally the superintendent or a designate. From there, appeals then can be made first to a review committee and eventually the board of education.

“There is a very clear process. It is detailed and gives very step-by-step levels and explanations,” said Osborne.

As a result, school trustees told the parents Tuesday night that they were unable to listen to their concerns, and referred them to the senior administrators in the room.

In an interview, trustee Casey Cook said he is aware of the parents’ concerns but cannot comment on particular personnel. While he said the current process does hold teachers accountable he is open to changes to make it more effective.

“I would be very interested in a consultative process with all stakeholders at the table in examining the process,” said Cook.

Osborne said if the board decided to revisit its policy the union would take part in the discussion.

“We’re prepared to talk about anything, that doesn’t mean we’ll agree to it,” said Osborne adding, however, that letting parents evaluate teachers would violate the collective agreement teachers have with the province.

Assistant superintendent Al Balaniuk couldn’t comment on the specific case, but said:

“I would submit that what we’re looking at is, can the teacher and the parent come up with a solution that is satisfactory to both? And if that’s not the case, then the parent has the option of going to the vice-principal or the principal and continuing the conversation at that level. Most situations are resolved at the school-level... Very few get bumped up to my office. From time to time, I’ll field a question from a parent, but for the most part these issues are dealt with at the school level.”

Meantime, Randhawa says this isn’t a question of just one student, or one parent with a grudge.

“It’s a concern for many parents for quite some time.”

—with files from Tyler Orton and Chris Bryan

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