Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Failure: Impossible

A few weeks ago, I came across this article about a school district in Alexandria, Va. which has removed the failing grade (F) from it's possible grades. Instead, failing students will receive an Incomplete (I). The idea behind this is that the school feels an F is to final. It tells students that they're over. They're done. They didn't make it. Move on because you can't do this.

To me, it's an insult to our intelligence. I'm no psychologist, but effectively, an F and an I mean the same thing: You didn't complete the course work and if you want the credit, you'll have to try again. Are kids really so dumb as to think that this changes anything?

The only thing I can see it changing is that it may not impact a student's GPA. Most times, when an I grade is used, it's a placeholder that isn't counted for tabulation of GPA. Translation: It can't hurt you. It can slow you down, but so long as you get it done, you suffer no penalty for not keeping up. Since when does this work in the real world? All we're doing is lowering the bar.

I understand the hardships of feeling like you're behind. I felt like it much of my college year. But here's the thing: Unless you're feeling challenged, you won't work to better yourself. Telling kids that they can't fail essentially removes that pushing force.

Sure, it's not a force that will drive all students. Some won't care if it's there or not, but I can't see such students caring if you call it an F or an I either. But there are students that do need that threat to keep them working. And taking that away just feels like we're letting those students down in the long run, even though they may think they like it in the short run.

4 comments:

Trolleyfan said...

"Are kids really so dumb as to think that this changes anything?"

Well, they did just get an "F"...;)

This is just another attempt at sympathetic magic - if we call it something else it will become something else. Admittedly, this hasn't worked yet...but they keep trying.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like an attempt to raise their district's GPA and potentially get more funding.

Anonymous said...

F means you F'd up, kid. Try to get it right next time. We'll help you get out of this situation. That's what an 'F' should mean.

Trolleyfan said...

"Are kids really so dumb as to think that this changes anything?"

Well, they did just get an "F"...;)

This is just another attempt at sympathetic magic - if we call it something else it will become something else. Admittedly, this hasn't worked yet...but they keep trying.