Monday, October 29, 2012

"Lazy" students getting something for nothing?

Is making 50 a baseline for failing in school really giving students something for nothing? Some have complained that making 50 the baseline (lowest failing grade) encourages students to be "lazy."

First of all, effective and empathetic teachers knows that there are many reasons why a student might not do homework and being lazy encompasses few students in the group. Any number of students are grappling with serious problems in their lives (poverty, divorce, learning disabilities, abuse, etc.). These students need support, not zeros and insults from people who are quick use derisive terms like "lazy".

Secondly, good teachers want to reach the segment of the student population that is struggling. Grade recovery is a necessity. For example, without a baseline grade of 50, students could receive a report card grade of  0 or 10 or 20, etc. Once that student realizes that it will be close to impossible to pass the course, why would the student even try?

In most high schools in this area, students are graded on a 0-100 basis. Thus, there is a ten-point spread for A's, another 10-point spread for B's and so on until one gets to failing (F). In that case, there is a 64 point spread that puts students in the failing category.

The whole argument that students are getting something for nothing (if 50 were to be the baseline) would be solved if our schools went to a different scale. For instance, why not use the grading scale used at the colleges? (1.0 - 4.0) Why not go to an A - F grading scale? In those scales, there is hope for recovery from a failing grade. A college student who fails a course can still pull his/her average up to an impressive level. However, when a school district gives out zeros, this puts too many students in a situation where they feel hopeless.

Additionally, do we really want to label any student as a zero?

In my first year as a high school English teacher, my mentor teacher discussed grading and homework. He wisely said that I should assess all practice homework with comments and check marks (+, -, or ND not done) and get a stamp that said, "Under Construction." He advised that I put that stamp atop homework assignments that were of a very poor quality. Students would be told that the "Under Construction" stamp means that they need to conference with the teacher. This mentor told me that it was important not to defeat students. They need support to move ahead, he said, not a paper laced with red ink and a failing grade.

Teachers have the power to shore up students' self-concepts or damage them. High school has an inordinately significant impact on what students think of themselves. Let's make sure we do our best to make all students feel respected, supported, and hopeful (of a productive future). Students should know that they have many skills to offer society that high schools never teach or measure.

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