I commented recently on an article for The Core Knowledge Blog about bottom of the line grade inflation. They reported that one North Carolina district was in discussions to make 61% the lowest grade rather than 50%. That is, in an effort to help failing students not feel like such failures, D is now the new F. We see the path this is taking, do we not?
However, it does come from good intentions. The fact is that failing students who do chip away at their work cannot earn an increase in their grade if we don’t massage the current system. Without positive ends, why would they struggle through the means?
I commented as follows:
Perhaps there is a compromise here. Work not turned in must be a 0 while inferior work cannot be less than 60%. I cannot say the same, however, for test scores, merely for independent work turned in from home. Very much like the bottom line 200 points you get for signing your name on the SATs, just doing the developmentally appropriate thing of turning in the work needs to account for something. For some students, doing it, getting it in the backpack, and getting that work out to turn in on time, is an enormous part of the assignment. For the student that eventually turns his or her late work in, they will actually, therefore, see an encouraging increase in their grade just by performing the part of the assignment that is delegated to being responsible, that of just turning it in.
So I delineated between earned test scores and those of homework. (But, then again, I’m not a huge homework fan; but my theories on that are for a long post of their very own) I do not, however, feel the same way about attendance. As I continued:
On a slightly related note, I was once approached by an assistant principal and told that if a student attended school, they may not fail. That is, she tried to tell me that I was not to fail a student who just did the job of showing up to school. I looked at her in the eye and said, “Um, that’s not rigor in MY classroom.”
I refused to go along with her saying that in my class, if you fail, you are working harder to do so then to do the minimum. With my scaffolding and support, those who fail are striving for that goal.
There is a point where we, as teachers, must turn our attention to students who want the academic help. You can only reach out so many times before the responsibility falls solely on the student’s shoulders. While teachers are influential, sometimes a student’s issues are bigger than our role in their lives, but we can make sure that we are doing our part by designing a system that allows a failing student to change his or her ways.
We can’t lower standards, but we can make it fair.
I am not a babysitter. Just as teacher ed programs give out credentials to anybody who pays money to sit in the seat, she was saying that by just being there, a student earned a D-. Not so. Their parents, by making them come to school everyday, might deserve some kind of baseline score that delineates them from those who don’t bother making school a requirement, but you can’t give a kid credit for just pulling up a chair.