Failing Grade

May 20, 2008

USA Today has an article up about new school policies regarding the minimum grade possible.  Instead of allowing scores below 50, this new “minimum 50” policy would have 50 be the lowest score possible. The reasoning given in the article is that having a score range from 0 - 59 makes getting an F six times as likely as getting any other score.  As John Gruber of Daring Fireball points out in ‘Minimum 50’ Grading Polices,

This is so profoundly stupid it’s hard to believe it isn’t from The Onion. That F covers 0-59 doesn’t make it six times more likely that a student will get an F than any other grade, unless test scores are based on random numbers rather than actual performance.

We need both a letter and a numerical score.  Getting either a 29 or a 59 is failing, but there is a vast difference between the two.  A 29 means the student profoundly doesn’t get the material, while a 59 indicates someone who is almost passing.  Far too much emphasis is placed on appeasing parents and special interest groups under the guise of not injuring fragile young egos.  Not providing a fair and accurate assessment of a student’s understanding of a given topic to prevent a short term bruise to the ego, will create a much deeper injury later, when their lack of knowledge will become a real obstacle.  Parents who cry foul, and who moan about their child not getting into the best schools later in life, would be better served making sure that their child is actually performing in school, rather than pressuring the school system to re-rig the grading apparatus.

The issue with grades and testing is placing emphasis on the grade, and not on the knowledge, or lack thereof, it represents.  Tests should help teacher and student both, understand what material isn’t understood fully.  Ideally, there would be time to return to the just-tested material and review it again.  Something, I fear, that isn’t done in most circumstances.

Douglas Reeves, and the school boards rolling this minimum 50 plan out, should all receive falling grades - numerically and otherwise.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.