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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Grading ‘floors’ can become learning ceilings

After a grade-switching scandal at two high schools, Memphis Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has issued a moratorium on “grade floors,” reports Chalkbeat Tennessee. “Proponents of grade floors had called them a useful tool to motivate students who lag far behind to bring up their grades — for instance, bumping a student performing at 20 percent up to a 60 percent on a scale that requires at least a 70 percent to pass.”

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Failing grades deprive students of hope,” argues Marlena Little, a Memphis teacher. Her fifth graders are two or more years below grade level, she writes. “Without a grading floor, all of my current students would have grades below a 65 percent.”

Grade floors are a “short-sighted solution to a larger issue,” writes Natalie McKinney, who runs a Memphis nonprofit, Whole Child Strategies, Inc. “Obtaining an unearned grade only provides a misleading indication of a child’s growth.”

This matters because our students depend on us to ensure they will be prepared for opportunities after high school. To do this, our students must possess, at the very least, a foundation in reading, writing and arithmetic. If we mask real academic issues with grade floors year after year, we risk missing a chance to hold everyone — community, parents, the school board, district administration, school leaders, teachers, and students — accountable for rectifying the issue. . . . An accurate grade helps the teacher, parents, and district appropriately respond to the needs of the student. And true compassion lies in how we respond to a student’s F. It should act as an alarm, triggering access to additional work, other intervention from the teacher or school, or the use of a grade recovery program.

Little also wants parents to know the truth about their children’s achievement level by coupling a grade floor “with information that accurately highlights where a student is, both within the district and nationally.”

I side with McKinney, but I see Little’s dilemma. Her fifth-graders have been passed along without learning the reading and math skills they need. Does she fail them all? Or pass them along to sixth grade?

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