It’s the end of the semester, and you’re crunching numbers for grades. During this time you’ve:
- Spent valuable time giving effective feedback
- Figured out which assignments are worth grading, as well as
- How to streamline grading, and
- Finally hunkered down and practically FORCED your students to do their work.
Yet despite all of your hard work and dedication, you still have those students that are failing your class. And of course, everyone’s educational philosophy on this varies. Some teachers believe that those students earned their F by doing nothing. Others are preoccupied with the implications of having high student failure rates. And there are a growing number of teachers who won’t give a student an F and will instead bump it up to a D-.
Then there are people in the middle like me and believe that students have the right to fail.
What? The right to fail?
Yes, the right. The privilege. The freedom. And yes, this statement seems contradictory to everything I’ve blogged about this past month or so.
But at the end of the day, if you’ve exhausted all options, given all the love and extra help you can give, and your student is still failing, then that is his or her right. It is not your place to pad their grade so that they squeak through with a D and pass.
At the end of the day, your student needs to fail.
The purpose of grades
Grades are so subjective, and teachers are so protective of their grading practice. However, on this blog I emphasize the fact that grades or marks benefit students and teachers most when they are an indicator of student progress on skills or standards. When a student looks at their grade, they should see how they’re progressing, not necessarily their effort or ability to meet deadlines.
This means that if a student is completing their classwork at a C level, then their grade should reflect that. If they turn in that C level work a day late, penalizing them with points brings them down to a C- or D level. That D does NOT reflect their knowledge and level of mastery in a skill or standard – it reflects their disorganization or lack of support at home.
The importance of grades reflecting abilities cannot be emphasized enough. Parents need to understand their student’s level of mastery. Without accurate knowledge of this, they can’t help or advocate for their student. Grades also start the conversation on how to personalize learning to best meet any student’s needs. Therefore, they can’t be arbitrary or given willy nilly.
Therefore, if you have a student who you’ve gone all in with and they STILL cannot demonstrate any level of proficiency on an independent assignment, then chances are they should fail.
Faking grades hurts students
Inflated grades give students a false sense of security and confidence. They think they’re doing just fine, and don’t see that there’s a disconnect between their A’s in participation and their F’s on assessments (which magically add up to a B?).
Sometimes teachers don’t want to be hassled by parents, so they give a higher grade to appease them. Or offer unrelated extra credit assignments despite the fact that the student couldn’t demonstrate proficiency on the original assignment. Or drop the lowest grade so that a low test score won’t bring their grade down.
While I’m convinced that these educators have the best of intentions, they’re actually hurting the student by doing any of the above. How can you expect a student to put forth extra effort learning the quadratic formula when you’ve given them an A for just trying?
If a student has “earned” A’s in writing in the 7th grade even though their writing is well below grade level, can you imagine the disappointment and anxiety they’ll feel in 8th grade when they’re earning Cs, Ds, or even Fs?
Cheating students of support
I have had quite a few students whose previous teachers inflated their grades. After initial assessments and collection of data, I learned that these students are actually performing well below grade level, and some reading even at a 2nd grade level.
Having students below grade level does NOT bother me one bit, if anything, I welcome the challenge to close that achievement gap as much as possible. However, these students’ parents have been fed untruths about their student, and now that I’m assessing and grading them at the proper level, they’re confused and irate.
You know what? I’M confused and irate as well! Had these families known where their student lacked academically, they would’ve received extra support. There could have been a plan, perhaps some testing for underlying causes, and most likely some interventions.
But when teachers choose to inflate grades, sometimes the student is too far behind and it’s too late to get them to grade level. It’s truly the student that suffers.
An F may actually help those that need it
I know that I tend to pat myself on the back about how much I push my students and give them an endless amount of support. I sit down and work one-on-one with the neediest students in an effort to have them produce some evidence of learning.
But let’s be completely transparent here: It doesn’t always work. And not because of my lack of effort, but because the student truly cannot produce work, either individually or with my guidance.
- In these rare but occasional instances, if I give this student a passing grade when they really should be failing, there won’t be any red flags, they won’t be evaluated, and in essence I’ll be denying them of extra services.
- If other teachers pad their grade with participation grades and downplay assessments, then they will be denying that student of extra services.
- When I bring up my concerns to a parent about their student’s progress, and I’m the only one giving them a failing grade, parents think that it’s just me and there are no academic issues with their child. They refuse any type of evaluation or services, and I’m made out to be the bad guy.
However, if all teachers truly assessed and administered grades based on a student’s level of mastery in that grade, and not include participation or timeliness of assignments, then students will receive a more comprehensive and individualized education.
If teachers respected a student’s right to fail, then the school can intervene and help them.
Using grades as punishment
It’s important for me to clarify a misconception: I’m not saying that you should just let or allow your students to fail. I am in no way condoning the act of just letting students sit there and do nothing, or shrugging my shoulders when a student hasn’t submitted any assignments, or letting a student that doesn’t want to work win by giving in.
I’m definitely not supporting the practice of punishing students with an F due to disrespect, poor attendance, lack of motivation or accountability, or bad behavior. In these scenarios, there’s something deeper going on, and as educators I believe that it’s our job to get to the root of it and get our students to learn.
But I am unequivocally supporting the fact that it’s necessary for students to fail after you, the teacher, have exhausted every option to get them to succeed.
- After you’ve dug down and willed yourself to sit and have a real conversation with the student, even if they’ve gotten on your very last nerve.
- You’ve held them after class to have them finish their assignment.
- And called or emailed their parents, counselors, and other teachers with your concerns.
If, after doing everything humanly possible and putting more effort than your New Year’s exercise plan, and assessing the work they produce, they still aren’t meeting proficiency…
Your student has earned the right to fail.