Honest grades

Students deserve honest grades, writes Reform K12.

Grades are not (and never have been) a measure of a child’s worth! If Johnny’s report card has a D in Mathematics, that doesn’t mean Johnny the human being is worth a D, it simply means that Johnny’s performance in the knowledge and skills of Mathematics is worth a D!

. . . Do your students a favor, and don’t do them any favors! Just do your best to teach them, and at the end of the term, give them the grades they earn. They’ll thank you later.

Well, they should thank you later.

About Joanne


  1. Actually, a few of my students have thanked me for grading them hard… just not at the beginning of the semester. Usually it’s at least a semester afterward, once they realize that they actually did learn what I set out to teach them.

  2. D. Cooper says:

    And, sometimes it’s 5,10,15 years later; you run into them all over the place. You’d like to hear it sooner but after awhile you begin to understand that your efforts are appreciated, but a 15 year old is not likely to tell you. When it does come, you feel good and give a little smile. It’s a great job, despite the battering we take at times, and the thanks you get from a thirty year old in K-Mart makes it worth while.

  3. Walter Wallis says:

    What a typically white male attitude.

  4. Independent George says:

    The true story of Mr. Jacobs:

    There we were – the cream of the crop – in AP American history. For most of us, we’d been told we were the best since the Kindergarten, and we believed it. So imagine our expressions when the first batch of essays we received came back with more red ink than black. “Illogical”, “Where is the evidence?”, “This is not a sentence”, “What does this mean?” “Did you do the reading?” the comments read. Shock. Horror. Anger. Didn’t this guy know who we were?

    Eventually, it dawned on us that he knew exactly who we were, while we didn’t have the first clue. Because we were the top students, more was expected of us, and he knew full well that nobody gives a damn who we were in high school. If we were to succeed in life, puncturing our egos was the crucial first step to actually educating us, as opposed to just pushinig as along to the next class. As the year went by, we improved, and he was even harder on us.

    Finally, after taking the AP Exam (which was easy compared to his stuff), we decided to honor him with an appropriate gift. We gave him a card, attached to a bouquet of about 100 red pens of various styles. The next year, word came from the juniors that he used them all up on his next AP class.

    By the way, I got a 5, and I don’t believe I was the only one.

  5. Say it loud, sister. They can have a hard time in school, or a hard time in the workforce. Except for the silver spooners (ie, Patrick “I’ve never worked a day in my life” Kennedy), there’s no other way.

  6. Walter Wallis says:

    That’s what I forgot to do – Have a rich ancester. I knew there was something.

  7. D. Cooper says:

    Walter…I’m not sure I understand your comment ..typically white male attitude,.. did you respond to the wrong post? And if you’re referring to me, my comments were relative to meeting former students in general, not for anyone specifically thanking me for failing them. And, in any event it isn’t an attitude, it’s what happens. Typical white male event maybe … I don’t know, I think I’m missing something, please explain.

    I’m guessing the idea here is to be honest and tough and don’t give out meaningless grades. Kids can see right through that. A fifteen year old might brag to a friend about the ‘C’ he got, but deserved a ‘D’. Eventually he’ll realize that he was cheated not rewarded.

  8. Amen.

    I’ve failed a fair number of my (first year university calculus) students, and given poor marks to many others. In 90% of those cases, I hated having to fail these students – not because I think they deserved to pass, but because I felt that someone should have failed them long before they ever got to me.

    Like Wacky Hermit, though, I have had several students thank me for grading them harshly. I teach one of a dozen or more sections, and all classes write a common final. Final grades are then scaled, so that the final exam average becomes the class average for the term marks. So it’s not in my students’ best interest to write easy midterms, because then they’ll be doubly burned on the final: first, the final will be far harder than anything they’ll have seen so far, and second, their decent midterm marks will be scaled down. A few years ago, I had a student who was borderline passing his midterms, and was quite worried about the final. He complained that my midterms were “different from the homework”, so he couldn’t prepare for them as well as he’d have liked to. I thought he’d fail.

    After the final exam, he handed in his paper, and grinned. “I want to thank you for giving such hard midterms,” he said. “I thought I’d fail this exam, but I think I did okay on it after all.”

    He passed.

  9. Grading is important feedback, and so is editing. One teacher in grad school told me, “There’s no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.” I don’t think very many public school teachers adhere to that view, I don’t know if it’s a lack of time, interest or ability or some combination thereof.

  10. D. Cooper says:

    DBL … as a ‘public school teacher’ (starting to think that’s a dirty word around this post) I taught high school mathematics and programming. We rewrtie in programming, we edit, edit some more, improve and fine tune. You can always make it better. Does that qualify?

    I’d suggest that your finger point is a bit harsh. Every high school English teacher I ever knew (colleague or my own teacher) required re-writing, and in my case maybe even re-re-writing.

  11. I am an Asian, female, public school math and science teacher. My students EARN their grades. I do not think that attitude is white or male. It should be the attitude of every hard-working individual who hopes to be successful in life. Whether students ever realize it or not, they are better for having worked and earned their grades. Kids see right through the teachers who are the “easy” A’s.

  12. I wish I had more students like Brenda and the Hermit do. I’ve had a few, but I’ve had far more who are so upset at getting less than a B that they file complaints against me with my department, saying if I was a better teacher they’d be getting better grades. I wanted to be a professor when I finish my PhD, but I’ve decided now there are too many black marks on my record so I’ll head to industry.

  13. We need to get started filing complaints against the easy graders. There’s so many of them infesting our schools that diplomas don’t signify any real achievement, and their market value is accordingly low.

    Imagine if high school graduates could get decent jobs. It could happen if that diploma represented real achievement, and if it was well known that real learning and performance was required of students, and lazy or clueless students were flunked without mercy. Instead, our kids have to spend their entire childhoods pursuing a worthless diploma, and then spend what should be part of their adulthood beginning their real education.

    Of course, there’s the truth that has been known to drill sergeants throughout history: easy training, hard combat; hard training, easy combat. It’s time this wisdom filtered down to our schools.

  14. And Kimj, don’t forget the parent complaints. I teach gifted middle school students, and these kids are traumatized when I “give” them their first B or C grades. This does not make me popular, but it makes for quality work.

    And as for asking kids to rewrite their essays, it takes a tremendous amount of time and teacher energy to give editing feedback to 180+ student papers. I’m not saying it can’t be done. It can. But the logistics make it near impossible for the teacher to do so quickly and regularly,at least if said teacher is going to have any sort of life.

    I think conscientious English teachers probably have the heaviest paper load of all. The cognitive demands involved in assessing logical, syntactical, grammatical, mechanical, and stylistic issues strike me as much more exhausting than checking off math equations or setting up soccer.

  15. More reasons why I stick to stringent grading:

    The percentage of kids on our school’s honor roll last year was near 50%.

    This, while test scores report that over 50% of our students are performing at only “basic,” “below basic,” or “far below basic” standards.

  16. SuzieQ: Yes, I actually received a parent complaint so I know what you mean to a certain extent, though I imagine you get far more.

    In my case, the kid made his mother drive an hour up to campus to complain about him failing the first calculus exam. This was taken not as a sign that the kid is probably too immature for college, but instead that I must be so terrible of a teacher that he was too frightened to talk to someone directly.

    The good news was that I actually did agree that the first exam was too hard, and I was overruled by the other two instructors, so that complaint at least never made it onto my “permanent record”. Thank goodness I had saved all the e-mails I sent to them…

  17. Walter Wallis says:

    Sorry, D.B., I was trying to be cute.
    A good teacher is beyond price – a bad teacher is beneath contempt.

  18. Walter, you have a madonna-whore complex towards teachers.

    I think you need therapy. 😉

  19. D. Cooper says:

    Walter … you are so funny … is the same true for plumbers?

    SuzieQ … does your school have the ‘mommy says’ honor classes? And, BTW, we all need therapy of some sort or another.

  20. One thing that continually makes me cringe is a teacher justifying his/her passing of a student by saying “But they worked so hard.” The grade doesn’t reflect hard work, and that isn’t a substitute for understanding.

  21. A good plumber is pricey.

  22. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me: I’ve received my share of complaints too, and more complaints than thank-yous. I was just focusing on the positive. I’ve had parent complaints (and I teach college!). One particularly nasty parent was able to twist the assistant department head’s arm until he changed the grade from a D to a C-, by threatening him with a lawsuit. I got in trouble once with the athletic director for failing his football players and not giving them extra time to study for quizzes and exams that other students didn’t get. And like everyone else, I’ve had my share of lame “you can’t fail me, I have a scholarship” arguments.

    But a couple of semesters ago, I had a former student get married. I went to their open house and told them I’d written a related rate problem in their honor (about them moving a couch around a corner into their new apartment) and put it on my latest midterm. The groom (the former student) then said something to the effect of, “Oh yeah, one of those problems where you write the equation, take the derivative with respect to time, and plug in the values.” After more than a year he still remembered (instantly, and at his wedding!) how to solve a related rate problem. That warmed my heart to no end.

  23. KimJ – like Wacky Hermit, I’ve also got plenty of complaining students. Haven’t had many complaining parents, fortunately. I did have one, who told me that I was a terrible teacher for failing his (formerly B-) son, and would I please change the grade. I refused. The parent went to the course coordinator…who then asked that I change the grade. Again I refused. He told me that he was the course coordinator, and that therefore, he had final say over students’ grades and that he had the authority to decide whether or not I would be eligible to teach the following term (I’m a grad student). I replied that I’m sure that the local paper would have a field day with the news that students with particularly pushy parents can write their own grades, and that giving a failing student a failing mark is grounds to dismiss the instructor.

    The failing grade stood.

  24. Students who are given easy grades often find out (the hard way) that they really didn’t learn anything (IMO). I had instructors in high school who were hard graders, and as a result, it helped me in the long run. I often wonder what might have happened, if I didn’t have such hard teachers?

  25. JorgXMcKie says:

    I teach at a mid-level state university (to be polite about it.) You would be appalled at the number of students in upper level undergrad courses who regard it as very close to obscene that I: 1) require at least 2 papers of 5 pages or more that require more than puking back what’s been discussed in class; 2) won’t give out study guides outlining what needs to be known for tests; 3) write extended comments on papers; 4) expect papers to be handed precisely on time or before or else penalize the lateness; 5) give grades below a B.

    I had one student accuse me of attempting to damage her chances of “getting into a good grad school” becuase the B- she earned would drop her 3.9 GPA. (She may have had the 3.9 instead of a 4.0 because she had received a final grade of A- in an earlier, easier class of mine.) She said I just didn’t like her. I didn’t tell her I doubted she could get into _that_ good a grad school because I doubted she would score all that high on the GRE. Who knows? Maybe that 3.9 or whatever is enough.

    Unfortunately, too many of my students evidently learned earlier that studying and actual effort to learn is not as important as I believe it to be. It shows in even the papers of my better students. Few seem to me to make the kind of effort that results in the real learning that should be taking place. Shoveling the tide.

  26. I’ve failed a fair number of my (first year university calculus) students, and given poor marks to many others. In 90% of those cases, I hated having to fail these students – not because I think they deserved to pass, but because I felt that someone should have failed them long before they ever got to me.

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