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Posted at 6:51 PM ET, 11/16/2010

Eliminating the 'F' won't eliminate failure

By Thomas Kinder, Springfield

Regarding the Nov. 14 front-page article “West Potomac High pushes F off the grade book”:

I wish West Potomac well on its initiative to increase learning, but I am skeptical.

First, labeling poor achievement as “F,” “I” for incomplete or even “GREAT” probably won’t change anything. The labeling shift will be transparent to students, teachers and parents, and low-achieving students are skilled at developing excuses for low performance.

Second, real progress requires teachers, counselors and parents to encourage students and to enforce high standards. For the most part, this must be accomplished through individual interactions, which means small classes and perhaps teacher overtime for Saturday or after-school sessions. But we are in a period of fiscal austerity, with school systems cutting, not expanding. Many struggling students do not have strong parental support, and schools can do little to construct this essential part of high student achievement.

Third, I agree that “late is better than never,” and I give my students credit for late submissions and opportunities to correct quizzes (a second opportunity to learn material). The idea that we don’t care when students learn, however, is foolish; most high school courses are cumulative, and learning late means that students are unable to understand fully the current lessons. Think of an airline pilot learning to land in a crosswind after she is piloting a 747 full of passengers. Timeliness matters.

The writer is a teacher in the Fairfax County Public Schools.

By Thomas Kinder, Springfield  | November 16, 2010; 6:51 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax County, HotTopic, education, schools  
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As a West Potomac grad from back in the day, I have to ask, is this policy retroactive and if so can I get my transcripts updated?

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | November 16, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

To repeat ... make sure they all get a trophy.

Posted by: mitlen | November 17, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

This article makes absolutely no sense. It's chock full of banalities and is in dire need of an editor.

Posted by: ShovelPlease | November 17, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

ShovelPlease, this makes sense if you are in education.

Posted by: citizen77 | November 17, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Teachers strive to differentiate their instruction to accommodate diverse learning styles. Teachers and school systems must strive too to be flexible with their grading to accommodate diverse rates of learning and readiness to learn—within practicable limits. School resources are limited and public school systems must set limits on the time available to students to graduate.

I agree with several of the compromises reported, namely to award incompletes with fixed time limits for completing the work, to score Fs as no lower than 50 percent when calculating grade averages, and to make it easier to retake tests—but with a minor late-grade penalty. That said, a year-end incomplete must be corrected by the end of summer school to avoid a final F for the course.

Posted by: dmctaggart | November 17, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

This policy was actually considered about four years ago under the previous principal. I was on the PTA education committee at the time. Given the statement that there were 2000 (or so) Fs given out at the school last year, at a school with a student body of about 2000, is not good. A lot of those Fs were not for poor work, but for no work. This is just one way to try to deal with that fact. The I grade (Incomplete) reflects the true status. West Potomac is applying a college technique to this classic problem.
It is also possible that No Child Left Behind criteria are driving this change, with failure rates one of the criteria in determining school "passing" rates. If the goal of high school is to educate students, and this policy positively buttresses that goal, then it should be supported. If it is a success at WP, then I can see it be accepted at other schools within Fairfax County.
John Dickert
Mount Vernon Farms

Posted by: 12191946 | November 17, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I happen to work in a county in Virginia where they have this darling little thing that they do twice a week called "Enrichment/Redo." What this entails is that any student with a 70 or below on any one assignment or that is missing any assignment has a chance to "redo" that assignment. Nice if you missed the work for some legitimate reason. If you neglected to study or were just lazy and didn't do it, you get a second chance. I think this de-legitimizes what other students worked hard to accomplish. However, we as educators don't want to damage the psyches of the kids by holding them accountable by holding them back a grade. We prefer to give them multiple chances. This isn't fair to students that worked hard and did right the first time. Stop coddling kids. They need to pass or fail on thier own merits and they need to learn personal accountability and responsibility. If you don't do the assignment or you don't do well on the assignment, you made your bed, now you need to lie in it. We were never allowed to do that when I was in school, it shouldn't be allowed now. All we are doing is enabling a new generation to feel that they are entitled to multiple chances. I guarantee that an employer won't give them multiple chances to complete a work task when they mess it up. If it is messed up, they will be disciplined or be out the door.

Posted by: kimberleygroves | November 21, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

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