Seattle: Is D- good enough to graduate?

Seattle’s school board may delay a decision to let students graduate with a D average. Currently, students need a C — with a lot of exceptions. The board also wants to let D students compete on sports teams.

At the same time, the board vows to raise standards.

While parents and community leaders oppose the move, reports the Seattle Times, “most high-school principals and counselors support the changes, saying the C-average policy hurts students who can’t catch up if, for any number of reasons, they have a bad year or arrive in high school performing well below grade level.”

Yet in Federal Way — one of just a few nearby school districts that also require at least a C-minus for graduation and to participate in sports — the change hasn’t led to big problems. Superintendent Tom Murphy said he was skeptical at first and still worries that change might cause grade inflation. But overall, he says, it seems to have a positive impact, especially for athletes.

“It has shown kids that they can meet higher standards when they really want to and when they have to.”

When the C-average requirement went into effect in Seattle in 2001. one-fourth of students were at risk of not graduating. The district stopped counting F’s in calculating grade-point averages, and offered waivers to D students. Last year, the district went back to averaging in failing grades — but not for seniors who might not graduate.

About Joanne


  1. There are a lot of problems that contribute to the hundreds of ways to calculate grades and grade point averages. I know in New York that if a student fails they can never receive less than a 45% on their report card, and if they are not excessively absent then they can not receive less than 55%. That can be pretty frustrating sometimes, as students are given more than half the possible percentage points for a class when they have literally done nothing the entire grading period. While there certainly are social costs for those students who do not pull up their grades to graduate, their are also costs for society at large.

    I’m pretty biased because I’m a teacher, but it seems that when communities demand higher pass rates from schools they fall down on the job of demanding them from students. The whole “it takes a village” idea is certainly alive and well in today’s society. The village is not comprised of only teachers. The community needs to hold students accountable as well.

  2. When I read stories like this I sometimes wonder why we have graduation requirements at all, except as a reason to have a party.

  3. And people wonder why businesses require ever-increasing lists of qualifications from applicants?

  4. Andrew Bell says:

    Again, I’ll ask, who are the grades for? Who is the diploma for? Are we saving society from peril by making the “high school graduate” distinction?

    When you hear “he is a high school graduate,” do you immediately think “well, that guy must know something!” Not me. Don’t think a college degree necessarily means much either. Don’t know if this is a recent phenomenon or not.

    Employers that disqualify candidates based solely on degrees and majors do themselves a disservice.

  5. George Larson says:

    Andrew Bell

    Are you in a position to hire anyone? If so, how do you select candidates and decide between them?

  6. Don Bemont says:

    If one wishes that graduation mean nothing more than a certificate of attendance, then advocate for an open, honest change.

    However, at the present time, graduation is used as a measure of accomplishment for the student and graduation rates are used as a measure of performance for the school… so to move the requirements downward generally involves an intent to muddy the waters, to make it appear to others that something worthwhile has happened when it has not.

    Mr. Bell has a point about certifications, but that does not justify conveniently changing the meaning of those certifications in order to make things look better than they are. In any case, it seems fair to suspect that this kind of practice is one of the main reasons that diplomas and degrees have become such unreliable indicators.

  7. Okay…, isn’t “F” for “failing”

    “D” is actually passing….barely…but it is passing.

    So let them graduate.

  8. Donalbain says:

    Again we see the problem with the idea of “graduating”. Test each pupil in each of the subjects that they study. Give them a final grade in each of those, and let employers/colleges decide which ones they value, and which ones they do not.

  9. Here is the actual email I sent to some of these dunderheads on the school board for Seattle Public Schools:

    I read the article which appeared in the Seattle Times on September 15th, 2009 and I must say that I am appalled that the school board could even be considering such nonsense. I graduated from high school in 1981, when standards and outcomes were much tougher (compared to 2009).

    Allowing a student-athlete to participate in sports who earns grades of “D” in five of six classes would send a message that academics isn’t important, as long as the student can play sports. In reviewing the NCAA regulations on Prop 48 and Prop 16, a high school graduate who does not have a GPA of 2.0 or better (in 13 core courses) and a SAT of 1010 or combined ACT of 86 is not eligible to participate as a freshmen in Division I athletics.

    A better proposal would be to mandate that students MUST maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0 in all core subjects while in high school (this would align the concept with the requirements of Prop 48 and Prop 16 as the NCAA requires.

    If we want to examine this a different way, a student who earned grades of “D” in five courses, and a “A” in the sixth in all four years of high school would graduate with a GPA of 1.5 (not allowing for plus/minus in grading). This would be slightly better than a D+ in GPA (1.3), and if we equate this to percentages, that works out to approximately 65% on a scale of 100%.

    I cannot speak for yourself or school board members, but I would like you to consider this:

    When this student graduates from high school (assuming they actually do) and finds employment, how do you think their employer would feel if they gave only 65% of effort for the pay they receive (I know I wouldn’t tolerate it), and I don’t think any employer would either. In addition, given the lack of preparation of many high school graduates today, a proposal such as this would pretty much guarantee a student lack of future success in higher education (assuming that any four-year institution would actually accept them with a GPA of 1.5).


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by byron. byron said: RT @kriley19: Joanne Jacobs: Seattle: Is D- good enough to graduate? Full […]

  2. […] See the rest here: Seattle: Is D- good enough to graduate? « Joanne Jacobs […]

  3. […] The commission also wants to permit D students contend on sports teams. View example here: Seattle: Is D- beatific sufficiency to graduate? « Joanne Jacobs Posted in Uncategorized | Tags: board-also, compete-on-sports, graduate-with, let-students, […]