D won’t do

Some San Jose area teachers are dumping the D as a passing grade. They say students who are doing the minimum to get by will just have to work a little harder. California’s public universities won’t accept anything below C- on an academic transcript. The Mercury News reports:

“Where else in the world does anyone accept `D work’ but in public schools?” says Pete Murchison, principal at Fremont’s Irvington High School, which has done away with D’s altogether.

. . . The demise of the D makes it harder to pass a class, but educators say it’s improving marks in their grade books. Still, some wonder whether the new grading scheme demands too much from students who aren’t shooting for spots at Stanford or even Cal State-Stanislaus.

“I’d rather go to a junior college,” said Alex Johnson, a junior at Mountain View High who is eyeing Foothill or De Anza community colleges. He says it’s unfair that some teachers at his school are widening the range for an F. His dad isn’t thrilled either.

“D’s are the only thing keeping him from getting F’s,” Alex’s dad, Doug Johnson, said. “He’s an incredibly bright kid, but he couldn’t care less about school.”

That’s precisely the problem, say teachers who don’t want to pass students who scrawl their names and some answers on exams but still don’t grasp much of the material.

The risk of eliminating the D is that teachers will stretch the C- to help kids squeak by. But if teachers hang tough, students will learn to set their sights higher.

Principal Murchison said young people need to learn that substandard work is not OK in the real world.

“I’m fixing my kitchen right now,” Murchison said. “I’m not going to pay a guy $5,000 for `D-work’.”

Oh, but what if he’s an incredibly talented workman who does lousy work because he just couldn’t care less? You mean that’s not good enough?

About Joanne


  1. Oh, but what if he’s an incredibly talented workman who does lousy work because he just couldn’t care less? You mean that’s not good enough?

    ROTFL!! Awesome, Joanne!

  2. This actually was an issue where I went to college. If you took a course with normal letter grades, a D was passing and some of them counted towards your graduation requirements. However, if you took a course pass/fail and you got a D, it counted as a fail. One of my predecessors on the newspaper got a D in physics he was taking pass/fail and he started on a crusade that I think was still being debated after I graduated.

  3. Usually a D means the student got enough points to pass, but probably didn’t master much of anything. So he or she graduates and makes us all look bad because he or she doesn’t really know anything. Remember, you can not learn 40% of the material taught in high school and still graduate — and many kids do just that.

  4. I’ve long thought that B should be reclassified as “average” instead of C being “average”. This is just the icing on the cake though. Bye! Bye! D!

  5. Tim from Texas says:

    This is a good thing to see happening. However, it won’t be fair unless the same grading system at each level for each subject is used. For example, all Algebra I teachers teaching the same amount of material, the same level of difficulty, giving the same amount of tests, grading the same,meeting weekly to assure same, will be the only way it could possibly work.

    As I said, it’s a good idea, but I don’t see it taking hold and lasting, because I don’t see teachers going along with the idea of teaching in a unified planned step by step way to insure, as much as humanly possible, that the evaluations are fair,that is an A in Mr, M,s class would be an A in Mrs. Y’s,. Moreover, if a distict’s teachers did hunker down and do it and stubbornly kept to it, then the non hard- working,stubbornly lazy and/or incapable teachers would stand out like sore thumbs. Teachers are afraid of this and administators are especially horrified,for there isn’t any way to get rid of those teachers in any timely manner.

    Teachers, parents, administors etc, that is everyone with a direct interest in education, claims the schools need a better system of teaching,discipline,grading and etc. However a system is the very thing that is always left out. I hope the future proves me wrong, I can see some light,but I’m still skeptical.

    Yes I know that I’ve harped on this very thing before, but any endeavor that has succeeded going form A to Z has done it using order, a plan, a system. I argue this is true for K to 12.

  6. Walter Wallis says:

    D means don’t care. If they don’t, why the hell should the teachers?

  7. infamouse says:

    No, D means that they care enough to not get an F.

  8. I don’t understand the hubbub, though I think the D does serve a purpose. It is the traditional way for teachers to not have to see a seat-warmer of a student again.

    At low levels of …ahem… achievement, there really isn’t a great difference between 58 and 63%. That is usually a difference made by a very few better (luckier) guesses on multiple choice exams or the ability to spell a character’s name correctly in an essay test, not any actual scholarship.

  9. I like having a D and an F as non-passing grades. I give D’s to students who made some effort, just not enough to pass; and I give F’s to students about whom I have to ask “Why did you bother to enroll?”

  10. The Kansas State Writing program does not give Expository Writing students Ds. They either get a C to pass a paper or an R or U to go home and fix it.

  11. JimInNOVA says:

    In college, a D was a pass or a fail depending on the class you got it in. A D in an elective was passing, but in a Gen Ed or major requirement it was failing. It seemed to work pretty well, as it let the students (and I use the term very lightly) who couldn’t handle all 4 courses they were taking for full time status focus on 3 of them and take a D in their elective.

  12. At McGill University a D is a conditional pass: this means the student gets credit for the class, but have to retake the course in order for the class to count as a pre-requisite for more advanced courses. Since the difference between a D and an F is 1 grade point, this can mean the difference between academic probation and expulsion. This is a very important difference for students in engineering who may need two tries to master the material in a course.

  13. Mad Scientist says:

    So, this may actually lead to more grade inflation?

    Seriously, my sister (teaching two courses at a local college), had a student present her a “drop” slip. Two weeks before the semester is done. This was the dialog:

    Student: “I need you to sign this.”

    Professor: “I don’t think so. You knew the policy for this course made attendance mandatory, and you have not been in class for six weeks.”

    Student: “But I’ll FAIL!”

    Professor: “You have made the decision, and I fully support you.”

    Student storms off.

    Department Chair: “I heard the entire exchange. I wish I had thought of it.”

    The point here, people, is that if a student needs a professor’s signature on a drop slip, there is nothing that compells the professor to sign. Especially if the professor has tenure.

  14. That’s a good one 🙂

  15. Mad,

    What’s the problem…
    If a student hasn’t showed up for 6 weeks,
    done any work, or taken any tests… then they CLEARLY have already dropped the class in principle… just sign the form and let them go…
    why would you deny them the signature???

    They get no credit for the class, usually a designation such as W goes on their transcript indicating a withdrawal… it’s not like your passing them and giving them credit for something they didn’t earn.

    So what purpose does it serve, exactly, to fail this student in a class that the student for all intent and purpose, has already dropped?? They dropped the class, let them go. If they want to try again in the future, they can…

  16. Mad Scientist says:

    Denying the signature validates the kid’s choice. He has made the conscious decisiton to not do the work, why let him off the hook by giving him an easy out and letting him drop, just so he won’t get a bad grade.

    It is called “accepting the consequences for one’s actions”. I neglected to state that this class is a requirement for graduation, typically taken in the Freshman year. I further neglected to state this student is a second semester Junior.

    So the little slacker gets a couple-three D’s and F’s on his transcript. Then maybe he’ll learn that in life second chances are few and far between.

  17. Ayup, I can understand that. If you haven’t finished all of your core classes (stuff you do in the first 1.5 years of college), and you have to resort to taking them as a junior or senior, you have your priorities fouled up (IMO).

  18. andursonne says:

    Well, here’s the problem with this. My brother had an experience just like this. He thought he’d dropped a class in the beginning of the semester. He did it via computer but with only a few weeks left in the semester, he discovered he was about to fail the course he dropped. The teacher wouldn’t sign it despite his advisor and the professor of the class he’d signed up for when he dropped the other one, vouching for him. He failed. Lost his scholarship and had to go on academic probation. He took the semester off so he could work to pay for it and hasn’t gone back since. Hopefully, he’ll be back next fall. [Insert several nasty four letter words about this professor.]

  19. Mad Scientist says:


    Congratulations to your brother! He might have actually learned something in college. Such as to confirm that his drop was correctly registered.

    Painful lessons are usually the best remembered ones.

  20. speedwell says:

    You can’t confirm everything. You have to be reasonable about it and there’s only so much time in the day.

    You guys seem to believe that every student needs to be treated exactly the same and that there’s no excuse good enough to let a student escape his inevitable doom. That’s just pathetically stupid. You can’t honestly rail against zero-tolerance abuses when you impose zero tolerance in other areas of your teaching.

  21. Mad Scientist says:

    Yes you can confirm everything that’s important to you. I guess you have never dealt with a bureaucracy ever before. It is in your interest to make sure that you have proof of every transaction.

    How tough is it to print off a copy of your transaction for dropping a class on-line? How tough is it to actually talk to the teacher/professor well in advance of the drop date?

    In the real world, missing a deadline means your contract gets cancelled. Or there are monetary penalties. Or other sanctions. You just can’t go to a client and say at the last minute, “Gee, it was harder than what I thought. I have decided not to do the job for you. I hope we can work together in the future.”

    And as for his “inevitable doom”, this kid brought the doom upon himself. So what if he gets a bad grade? It was his choice to skip class and not do the work. The penalties for this sort of behavior were clearly stated in the course syllabus.

    Did you never hear that “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part”?

    If that sounds harsh, well you gotta learn sometime that life is harsh.

    Yes, I have zero tolerance for incompetance. Which is precisely what this kid demonstrated.

  22. JimInNOVA says:

    Not to defend this kid, but there are plausible reasons for taking a core class as a Junior. I had to wait until my senior year to take my freshman-level geography class, simply because the class was not offered often enough (one session every other semester) for me to fit it into my schedule before then. Sometimes, it’s the bureaucracy’s fault.

  23. As I read through the many comments put forth before me I sensed that many of you want to prepare kids for the ” real world” that is mean, nasty, and unfair. As a teacher myself I try very hard to be fair and understanding. My hope is to try to convert rather than conform. Perhaps if children are taught compassion and understanding, one day they may run their business with the same. I get sick and tired of a world that says ” treat them like crap so they are prepared for the real world”. Is this the same world that many adults believe is too stessful and uptight? How will it change if we do not teach by modeling that which we wish to be???

  24. Excellent conclusion, Todd.

  25. Well, in the case of dropping a class, anytime you do so, the first thing you need to do (say within a week or so) is to stop by the registration office and inquire personally to make sure the class has been dropped, and to get proof via printout it had been dropped (that’s the student’s responsibility, not the instructor).

    Todd, one thing that some teachers in public schools actually fail to remember is that the ‘real world’ is nothing like school. This is proven when you are hired, and fail to complete projects by a given date, constantly show up for work late (or not at all), etc.

    When this happens in the school system, most students are given some flexibility, when it happens on the job, you get fired (see the difference)?

  26. Excuse me, I have seen people screw up on the job over and over and over and over, and their coworkers have to cover for them, and it’s like pulling teeth to get the employer to do anything. There’s really no supportable reason to be mean and merciless with kids. I agree with Todd.

    As to the junior dropping the class: I knew a girl in college who dropped classes she was supposed to have for her major. Her advisor signed off on them. Imagine her shock when she applied for her degree and was turned down. She wanted to sue her advisor, and with difficulty we persuaded her not to. The catalog clearly stated what the requirements were for her degree. At some point you have to look out for yourself. It’s an artificial consequence for the teacher to refuse to sign the drop slip. It’s a real consequence to find out that you just simply missed the boat. She finished up in the summer, and hopefully learned something.

  27. Heather says:

    Perhaps the coworkers covering for the incompetent workers were taught by Todd. See what warm, fuzzy feelings get you? An annoyed work force that blames the employer for everything. Kind of sounds like a lot of the problems we face today.

  28. Heather, I have plenty of warm, fuzzy feelings. They cause me to make sure people are trained properly and understand what the expectations are, and are able to do their job rather than pitch them out the door the first time they screw up. They also cause me to expect everyone to carry his or her weight in order not to overburden other employees or make the business unprofitable. Putting up with people who should be fired doesn’t come from warm, fuzzy feelings, it comes from employers who don’t take care of their businesses.

  29. Mad Scientist says:

    I would suggest that people like Todd need to be reminded that the real world is indeed sometimes “mean, nasty, and unfair”. However let us try to define these terms.

    Mean: Is it truly mean to fire someone for constantly screwing up? Perhaps the person being fired actually thinks the “man” is being mean to him, but how mean is the slacker being to his coworkers who cover for him. The slacker gets paid for doing no work.

    Nasty: Is it truly nasty to fire someone for constantly screwing up? Every place I have worked gives people multiple chances as follows: a verbal warning, a written warning, three days off without pay, and termination. Everything is well documented so if the poor slob decides to try to sue, he has not got a leg to stand on. The process is done wholly above board and well communicated to the slacker. It is decidedly not nasty, it’s just business.

    Unfair: Is it truly unfair to fire a slacker because he makes his coworkers carry his load on top of their own? Is it fair to expect a paycheck for sitting around with your thumb up your butt and your mind in neutral? I would suggest fairness is a two way street.

    Understanding gets you only so far. I can understand if there is a family emergency. I can understand if one gets a flat tire or has car trouble. But once a car breaks down 3 times a week, it’s time to tell the employee to get his own life in order, because if he does not, he’ll soon be looking for other work.

    Compassion is not buying every lame excuse a slacker gives you. Compassion is giving the slacker a wake up call.

  30. Ladybird says:

    “So what purpose does it serve, exactly, to fail this student in a class that the student for all intent and purpose, has already dropped?? They dropped the class, let them go. If they want to try again in the future, they can…”

    The purpose it serves is that getting a failing grade is eternally on your record and that “F” (0 points) is figured into your GPA. A withdrawl is like giving someone a free “Do Over” with absolutely no consequences. Real life has consequences, even if the “mess” has been cleaned up.

  31. Mad Scientist says:

    An update (a bit late). Another of my sister’s students (at a second university; she adjuncts at two places) was sent off campus before Spring Break due to illness. He shows up to her office during the last week of class (this past week) to find out what he has to do to complete the course. She had assumed the student had dropped; when she found out he had not, she did some digging.

    As it turns out, the student was back on campus right after Spring Break (middle of March) and just had not bothered to show up. At least to her class. He had perfect attendance at his theater class.

    She refuses to allow him to drop (this institution requires a professor’s permission to drop after the drop date). He will fail. After all, he earned it.