July 6, 2016

Too Little to Fail?

Some schools are embracing more “inclusive” grading protocols.

When it comes to education, how do we best define “learning”? Accurately assessing student achievement is a bit complicated, but the concept of grading tests using an A-F proficiency scale is the best, most comprehensive tool that educators have developed to score basic student achievement. It’s not a perfect system, but for the majority of students it works. At least it did. Sadly, as more and more students fall behind in proficiency, some administrators are looking for solutions in all the wrong places.

This week The Washington Post published an interesting, albeit concerning, article on some of the more “inclusive” grading protocols making waves across the nation. “School districts in the Washington area and across the country are adopting grading practices that make it more difficult for students to flunk classes, that give students opportunities to retake exams or turn in late work, and that discourage or prohibit teachers from giving out zeroes,” the Post reports.

Just so we’re clear, we need reasonable accommodation for students who genuinely struggle to make good grades. However, some of the concepts being applied today prove another, more unavailing adage — handing out participation trophies for anyone, regardless of their effort, only sets students up for failure. Case in point: The Post describes one scenario in Fairfax County, Virginia — “one of the nation’s largest school systems”:

> Many school systems … are moving toward “standards-based grading,” which emphasizes evaluating students on what they ultimately learn rather than on work habits, student effort, punctuality or homework. The philosophy has driven Fairfax County to allow students to turn in work late and to retake major exams if they score below 80 percent; the county also limits homework to 10 percent of a student’s grade. Prince George’s officials will not allow behavior or attendance as factors in academic grades and will give students a second chance to improve their score on certain tests or assignments.

There’s a difference between accommodating the genuine cognitive needs of students — which most teachers already do — and promoting bad ethical behavior that will only lead to more adverse situations in the grownup world. In too many cases, it’s the latter that’s being encouraged. Despite the billions of dollars in additional funds injected into America’s education system, it’s no wonder grades are failing to improve.

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