• Joanne Jacobs

Grading 'reforms' teach kids they can 'do nothing, get something'


Teachers are complaining to Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews about grading reforms, he writes. A teacher in the high-performing Montgomery County, Maryland district fears that students are learning they can get good or good enough grades without doing the work.

Teachers can't give a zero for a missed assignment, unless they document their efforts to contact a parent about the problem. It takes a lot of time to send multiple emails, the teacher says. So he just gives students the required minimum -- 50 percent -- even if they did nothing.


In addition, students no longer get a lower grade if their performance slides from one semester to the next.

Before, if a student got a C one marking period and a B the next, the grade for the semester would be a B because the student was showing progress. If the student got a B the first marking period and a C the next, the final semester grade would be a C. Under the new policy, if a student gets a B in either marking period the final grade is a B.

"We’re deluding ourselves and the students into the idea that they’re something they’re not,” the teacher said. Students are learning that "you can do nothing and still get something." That will not serve them well in college -- or life.


Relaxing grading policies makes it easier to graduate. "The school system will tout their high graduation rates as proof that their policies are turning out educated people into the world equipped to handle the challenges of the 21st century," said the teacher. "And it would be a lie.”


When I was reporting at a new charter high school for my eventual book, Our School, I noted two unofficial credos. San Jose's Downtown College Prep had recruited struggling students, most from Mexican immigrant families, and was working to put them on track for college. The founders knew that happy talk wasn't going to cut it.


Credo 1: "We're not good now, but we can do better."


Credo 2: "Do the work."

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