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The Answer Sheet: The problem with abolishing the D

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Monday, August 23, 2010

An Aug. 18 guest blogger excerpt and response from Valerie Strauss's school survival guide.

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The problem with abolishing the D

This post was written by Joe Bower, a teacher in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, who has his own blog called "for the love of learning," on which he challenges " 'traditional' schooling."

I read in the New York Times that Mount Olive School District in New Jersey has abolished the D. Sounds progressive. Their reasoning is: "Who wants to pay for D quality plumbing? Fly the skies with a D-rated pilot? Settle for a D restaurant?" Good- intentioned if you ask me -- they just want better for their children. But there's a problem.

I fear that the Mount Olive School District has just doomed itself to mediocrity, if it is lucky, or very likely something much worse. Let me explain; it might not be what you think.

Let's pretend Mount Olive School District accomplishes its ultimate goal and every single one of the 389 students who had a D before this abolishment "pulled up their socks" and achieved a C. What would the reaction be? Is it plausible the media would run banner headlines giving props to the teachers and students for working so hard? Or . . . let's pretend Mount Olive School District successfully raises the bar but not one of the 389 students who had a D could meet the standards and they all received an F. What would the reaction be? Is it plausible Arne Duncan would run a joint press conference with the students' parents congratulating the school for maintaining such high standards?

Neither "what if" is plausible. But that's the problem.

If all those kids get C's instead of D's, Mount Olive School District will be accused of academic inflation and lowering the bar to an unacceptable level. After all, the tougher standards movement is defined as much by the number of students who are proficient as the ones who are not proficient -- in other words, "raise the bar" means we can only measure successful children when others are made to fail. If all those kids get F's instead of D's, Mount Olive School District will be labeled a failure and placed on a kind of academic probation.

readers respond

practica1 wrote: The grade of D is useful: it tells the student, parent, teacher, employers and so on that the student did work deserving partial credit for their effort -- but did not do everything to get full credit for the course.

The grade of F indicates too little performance to give any credit for the class.

And that's the way life works.

Viva D!!


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