Eight years after Seattle high schools replaced failing grades with “no credit,” failure is back.
District officials say former Chief Academic Officer June Rimmer banished the failing E grade seven years ago, in part to help some students meet the district’s then-new requirement that students had to have a C average to graduate. The School Board also had voted that, for the purposes of graduation, failing grades can be left out of the GPA equation.
A student with one A and five N’s (no credit) would have a 4.0 average. Some students were protecting their GPA’s by turning potential D’s into N’s (no credit). Admissions officers at state universities and colleges knew Seattle transcripts were inflated by the no fail policy, though it may have helped graduates applying out of state.
Rimmer’s decision was a part of a larger effort to focus more on what students learn, and less on how long it takes them. She once proposed what she called an “at-your-pace” diploma, which students would earn in three to five years. The idea was to acknowledge that not all students learn at the same rate, and should be able to retake a class without being punished or discouraged by receiving a failing grade the first time.
Rimmer was quoted saying that N could stand for “not yet.”
Teachers complained that students didn’t take failure seriously. And students who fall behind in credits are more likely to drop out than to return for a fifth year.
Without the “no credit” option, Seattle principals plan to identify incoming ninth graders at risk of failure and try to help them catch up so they can earn a real C average and a diploma in four years. Doesn’t that seem better for students?