Making the grade, part 2. NJ school district bans "D" letter grade for middle and high school.

Last week I caught a story that told us about a New Jersey school system that has decided that “D’s are simply not useful in society” and will therefore ban that letter grade from their middle and high schools. Students will now get either an “A”, a “B”, or a “C” or they will simply fail, receiving an “F.”

The way the Mount Olive school district  sees it, its students should not be getting by with D’s on their report cards, either. This fall, there will no longer be any D’s, only A’s, B’s, C’s and F’s.

“D’s are simply not useful in society,” said Larrie Reynolds, the Mount Olive superintendent, who led the campaign against D’s as a way to raise the bar and motivate students to work harder. “It’s a throwaway grade. No one wants to hire a D-anything, so why would we have D-students and give them credit for it?”

Certainly sounds reasonable on the surface, doesn’t it? Of course, that presumes that each and every student that gets a “D” today does so simply because they’ve just decided to “get by.” But if this approach is supposed to be effective, then why stop there? Why allow students to merely settle for “average”, which is what a “C” grade represents? Why not ban the “C” grade as well, forcing students to step it up and become “A-B” caliber?

There’s another issue with this and that’s holding students at this district at a disadvantage over their peers. I had a similar discussion during the discussion here in Loudoun County and in our neighboring Fairfax County over the matter of our grade scale, here, here, and here. Holding the students at one district to a different grade scale than those in surrounding districts puts them at a disadvantage. While not as severe as the grade scaling question in those previous posts, this decision produces a situation where 2 students in neighboring districts could take the same class, get the same scores on the tests, and have 1 pass (barely) and the other fail. If that was a required course in the senior year of school, you now have 1 student who graduates and the other doesn’t. The 2nd one misses the chance to apply to college (unless he’s lucky and there’s a make-up course available over the summer) and suffers a modest hit to his GPA, relative to the other student.

Threatening students with trumped-up fails isn’t fixing the issue. The question is why students can’t seem to muster the “give-a-damn” to excel rather than just barely pass. Perhaps it’s an issue with a teacher, perhaps it’s a matter of the perceived relevance of the course. Either way, the answer is to find out what’s the problem and address it rather than just putting nails into the stick you’re using to motivate them.

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