Seeing Red Over Graded Papers

Sixth grade math teacher Justin Kazmark mark report cards with a purple pen at P.S.188 in New York, Friday April 1, 2005. Kazmark is among teachers who no longer use red pens when marking homework or grading test papers, preferring to use purple. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Of all the things that can make a person see red, school principal Gail Karwoski was not expecting parents to get huffy about, well, seeing red.

At Daniels Farm Elementary School in Trumbull, Conn., Karwoski's teachers grade papers by giving examples of better answers for those students who make mistakes. But that approach meant the kids often found their work covered in red, the color that teachers long have used to grade work.

Parents objected. Red writing, they said, was "stressful." The principal said teachers were just giving constructive advice and the color of ink used to convey that message should not matter. But some parents could not let it go.

So the school put red on the blacklist. Blue and other colors are in.

"It's not an argument we want to have at this point because what we need is the parents' understanding," Karwoski said. "The color of the message should not be the issue."

In many other schools, it's black and white when it comes to red. The color has become so symbolic of negativity that some principals and teachers will not touch it.

"You could hold up a paper that says 'Great work!' and it won't even matter if it's written in red," said Joseph Foriska, principal of Thaddeus Stevens Elementary in Pittsburgh.

He has instructed his teachers to grade with colors featuring more "pleasant-feeling tones" so that their instructional messages do not come across as derogatory or demeaning.

"The color is everything," said Foriska, an educator for 31 years.