Sunday, November 14, 2010

At West Potomac High School, taking F off the grade books

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2010; 12:04 AM

Depending on whom you ask, West Potomac High School's latest change to student grading is either another sign of a coddled generation or a necessary step to help struggling kids.

The dreaded F has been all but banished from the grade books.

The report cards that arrived home late last week showed few failing grades but instead marks of "I" for incomplete, indicating that students still owe their teachers essential work. They will get Fs only if they fail to complete assignments and learn the content in the months to come.

Read more HERE.


Anonymous said...

I pray that this misguided thinking never travels south to our school system. This notion of not allowing students to fails is the root cause of many of the problems in both our school system and our society.

While the Charles County Kool-Aid drinking on PBIS has led to many “awards” it has also led to a culture in our schools where students decide they aren’t going to do anything if there isn’t a tangible reward. Every study that has ever been done on PBIS style schemes show a temporary decrease in behavior problems, followed by a long term increase in behavior issues as the snickers bar is taken away.

Extrinsic motivation simply doesn’t work. The only viable behavior system relies upon intrinsic motivation. (Sadly, many parents don’t get this and already put their children at a disservice by raising them with time outs and empty threats rather than the switch). What does this have to do with grades? The culture of rewarding kids for things they should already do creates an expectation of “what’s in it for me”. We lie to our children about the importance of AP classes (where grades are the most inflated) and we call the top ten GPA’s in the class down at an awards night they way the announce winners at a beauty pageant.

People who think everyone deserves an A simply don’t understand statistics. The much maligned “bell-curve” is really just a visual representation of a standard distribution. Simply put, in any population we expect the majority to be in the middle with a steadily decreasing number of individuals in each direction as we reach the highest and lowest performer. If a teacher has a lot of A’s in their class it is probably not a sign that the teacher is outstanding, it is more likely more an indication that their grading is too lax. In any classroom statistics tells us you should have roughly the same number of A’s as F’s, roughly the same number of B’s as D’s with the largest group receiving C’s. Assuming the 10 point grading scale we use in CCPS the class average should generally be a C.

By not allowing students to fail we are teaching them that if they slack off and waste their time, don’t do their work, and just do some nonsense at the end of the quarter they will get by. Much like the so called “Bridge” program to pass the HSA’s we allow students to get the same grade for less work. I believe I read in the paper that not a single student failed to graduate from CCPS because of not passing the HSA. This is not an indication of good teaching; it is an indication of lowered standards. This “Bridge” program comes from the state, not from CCPS for those that are unfamiliar with it.

Parents are as much to blame for grade inflation as any other group. Some parents refuse to accept that their darling is not the next Einstein and will go storming into the school anytime their child gets a B. They have cultivated a notion that “everyone is special” and because of this we have not elevated the best and the brightest, we have dumbed them down and call the average exceptional. While some teachers hold to their high standards they are generally labeled “too tough”, “too strict” or “not a team player” or (my favorite) “not child centered”. Sadly too many teachers give in; realizing that holding to their standards isn’t worth the trouble. It’s too much hassle to give kids the grades they earn. They get screamed at by both parents and administrators. Misguided do-gooders think that by giving lazy students innumerable chances they are benefiting the student. In reality they are really robbing them of one of life’s most important lessons: learning how to accept failure.

Anonymous said...

This same misguided policy has crept into our school in Utah. While we are still able to give F grades, we are required to re-mediate the grade (not necessarily learning). One administrative proposal was for students to just merely sit in a classroom after school for an hour each day for a total of 25 days/times to gain a "pass" grade. I about had a heart attack upon hearing that proposal.

The pressure is on teachers to realize that if they give an F grade, they are now responsible for the consequences of it. It seems that the mantra is that students don't earn grades anymore but that teachers give them. As a result, many teachers are watering down their curriculum in an effort to make life easier on themselves because there is no time to deal with re-mediation from students at different points in the school year and keep up with the regular day to day demands.

When I first started teaching school, the big talk was "helicopter parents." Now our schools have taken over the helicopter role and have taken it to the extreme by employing heavy lift "Chinook" helicopters with our schools becoming full-fledged helicopter pads.

We are taking an already entitled generation and worsening the
"I can do whatever I want, when I want, and how I want" attitude of young people. I'm afraid we will reap the negative rewards when these young people become adults and employ this attitude in society.