Failure is not an option?

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Teachers are told not to enable students. “They need to learn to do their own work. Don’t rescue them all the time.”

And if they are not doing their own work?

In these times when teachers are also told that “failure is not an option” we have a real problem. No work is not allowed to result in failure. No work is not supposed to result in rescues or enabling. The only acceptable outcome is a student who is doing their own academically-acceptable work.

This situation led the second largest school district in Illinois to propose a grading system for this school year that started at 50%. If you did no homework at all, you had a 50%. The following is taken from an email about this change:

Concerns About the New U-46 Grading Policy
It is very concerning that many U-46 stakeholders may not be fully aware of the implications of the new grading policy which is to be implemented this fall, or the ultimate negative effect it will have on the overall quality of the education of our students in this district.
The first topic of concern is that people may not realize how drastically some grades will be inflated when all low scores are bumped up to 50%. Under this new grading policy, a student could conceivably get a 70% C- average on half of his assignments, and still pass the class without even completing any of the other half of the requirements of the course. Understand that the average of 70% and 0% is 35%, which is what this student earns. However, when all of his zeroes are inflated to 50’s, he passes with a 60%, the average of 70% and 50%. In this case, the student’s average increased by 25%. It is crucial that everyone is fully aware of the fact that hundreds of students who would have earned failing grades in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, will now pass their classes under the new policy this fall. [For evidence, please refer to the May 2013 Grading Committee Report PowerPoint, Slide 27, which shows what happens when a student with a 28% has all of his low grades changed to 50’s. In this example, though the student’s average is increased by 24.5%, he still gets the failing grade he deserves with a 52.5%. A similar student, however, with just a couple more passing scores, can pass the class with a percent in the 30’s. With only 3 passing scores out of 12, a student could receive credit for the class.] Students who have demonstrated such low competency should not receive credit. The commonly accepted minimum competency accepted in this country has been 60% for over one hundred years. Why should U-46 lower that minimum competency expectation to 35%?

Eduhonesty: Madness. Complete madness. When I left off, the Superintendent was backtracking furiously. I doubt that the district made the change to this grading system, but if they didn’t, the reason was that some teachers raised holy hell about the plan. Originally, this scheme and a similar version were presented for a vote — without the option of continuing the traditional grading system. The idea behind the 0 = 50% idea was that students would not become discouraged and quit. Teachers were also expected to accept all late work up until the near end of the grading period for the same reason.

Reality: Some kids don’t work. Phone calls to parents or guardians don’t change the situation. Even afterschool tutoring sessions don’t get the work done, at least not consistently. Trying to get around this fact by stripping away the penalties for late work, while giving half-credit for no work at all, will not solve the problem. For one thing, many students will then copy returned papers belonging to their friends. Cheating is already endemic in our schools. For another, those students who find a “C” or lower acceptable will then do LESS work since that 50% makes it possible to nail the “C” grade with a fair number of missing assignments.

I’m sorry, but failure HAS to be an option. Why do we have illiterate and innumerate high school students? One reason is that we kept passing these kids when some of them had done almost no work. Rewarding students for doing no work, a schlock job, and/or late work will not benefit our students. I don’t see how anyone benefits, except for a few administrators who don’t want to explain failures to parents or other administrators.