Friday, December 5, 2008

Why not call it a 'M' for 'Meaningless'?

For your reading pleasure, I present ABC News, in a riveting story of
self-esteem and second chances: "Are Students Coddled? Schools Get Rid of 'F's."

Oh, wow.

Cliff Notes:

At public schools in Grand Rapids, Mich., high school students will no longer receive "F"s but instead will earn the letter "H" when their work falls woefully short. Superintendent Bernard Taylor told that the "H" stands for "held," and is a system designed to give students a second chance on work that was not up to par.
At one Boston area middle school, a policy known as "Zeros Aren't Permitted" gives students who do not complete their homework on time an opportunity during school hours to finish so that they do not fail the assignment.

Now let me just say that I am something of a connoisseur of 'F' and '0' grades. I received more than enough through high school, to say nothing of my abortive first year of college, to qualify as a subject-matter expert. Fs can come from one of three sources:
1. A lack of ability. The student simply did not learn the material in the time and environment (to include the teacher,) given. This type of student may not be a "write-off" necessarily, but a "Hold" is going to hold them back from learning anything else, not just hold their grade. How many held grades will one rack up before one is simply overwhelmed?
2. A lack of effort. My personal specialty - and let me assure you, no amount of lunch grace periods and high-school versions of "Incomplete" are going to motivate this type of student to do work they already chose to avoid in the first place.
3. A fluke. The bright (or at least, not slower than average,) hardworking student didn't get enough sleep the night before the test. The dog literally ate the homework. My house burnt down last night, sorry my presentation isn't here. But you know what? Students who work hard and show aptitude already get time to make up these things, and some sort of extra credit to make up for randomly bad tests. Heck, even I got these opportunities, and you had to be truly blind to see how little I cared. I had a policy of making it clear to my teachers within the first three weeks of a class that any homework not necessary to pass the class would not be done, ever.

So, what benefit, exactly, do policies like these provide - other than artificially inflating your school's comparative GPA, the academic equivalent of a government printing its way out of debt.

Now that's an intriguing concept. I wonder how hard it would be to create a "GPA exchange market," and track comparative grade strength. Well, son, the Deer Valley HS is very weak right now; it closed at 0.47 last week, which means your 4.0 is only worth a 1.88 GPA for our admissions policies."

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