Misbehavior, Unethical Behavior, and Grades

I observed an interesting conversation recently.

A teacher had observed a student cheating during an assessment. She brought it to the attention of a school administrator as she had contacted the student’s parents (which she is expected to do in this situation). The conversation quickly turned to the consequences.

The teacher intended to not allow the student to redo the assessment; it was a formative assessment, so not part of the proficiency-based grading system used in the school. The school administrator asked, “Are you punishing the content or the behavior?” and he argued that students’ proficiency-based grades cannot sufferer due to behavior.

I understand his rationale. “Grades” are supposed to reflect understanding of content… marking students down for poor behavior is not an acceptable practice in schools.

Something seemed not right about this conversation, however. I am a scientist and an information professional who works with data frequently. My teaching is in the field; part of my profession life is in research. I work to analyze data to inform programmatic changes and to document progress towards grant outcomes and for other purposes. In my field, ethics is a vital part of the content.

If one can manipulate data with the digital tools and the intellectual tools that I teach, but one does not use those in an ethical manner, then one has not learned the lessons of my content areas. Further my content does not end with the ability to use the tools, it extends to what we (inaccurately) refer to as soft skills. Avoiding unethical behavior, such as plagiarism, is a soft skill that is essential to my field of knowledge.

It seems the teacher and school administrator who I observed need a more sophisticated understanding of misbehavior. I maintain misbehavior that affects one’s ability to be an ethical professional seems appropriate to include in grades, including proficiency-based grades.