Are Students Coddled? Schools Get Rid of 'F's

Several school districts are abandoning failing marks for their pupils.

December 04, 2008, 4:22 PM

Dec. 5, 2008 — -- For more students nationwide, the grading alphabet ends at "D," as school districts eliminate policies that allow children to be given failing marks.

At public schools in Grand Rapids, Mich., high school students will no longer receive "F"s but instead will earn the letter "H" when their work falls woefully short.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor told that the "H" stands for "held," and is a system designed to give students a second chance on work that was not up to par.

"I never see anyone doing anything but punishing kids," said Taylor. "If the choice is between letting kids fail and giving them another opportunity to succeed, I'm going to err on the side of opportunity."

Students in Taylor's district can choose to retake the course, do extra work online or decide on a different remedial action with their teacher.

But if the work has not been rectified within 12 weeks, Taylor said the student will still receive a failing grade.

At one Boston area middle school, a policy known as "Zeros Aren't Permitted" gives students who do not complete their homework on time an opportunity during school hours to finish so that they do not fail the assignment.

The school principal explained that the policy was implemented in hopes of preventing "students from failing homework assignments and slipping through the cracks of the education system."

But school administrators, child psychologists and even parents disagree over whether the controversial policy in school grading may actually be detrimental to children in the long run.

Are Schools Coddling Children?

Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, believes that schools that veer away from giving children the grades they have earned – even when it's a zero or an "F" – aren't doing anyone any good.

"Children aren't going to gain from ambiguous information regarding their grades," said Kazdin.

"The fact is children are failing yet we don't want to call it that," said Kazdin. "It's this whole notion that everyone's a winner and everyone gets a trophy."

Kazdin argues that children are perceptive enough that they will eventually realize they aren't doing well in school whether teachers give them "F"s or not, and that hiding their true level of achievement will only confuse them further.

"The task is to change the reality, not the labeling of it," he said.

Providing detailed feedback on what children can do to improve their grades is imperative, said Kazdin. While students may feel initially feel demoralized when they receive a failing grade, Kazdin said that by providing them with specific ways to improve their class standing they will eventually benefit from the traditional grading system.

But the director of programs for the National Parent Teacher Association, Sherri Johnson, maintains that as more research emerges about the different ways children learn, the grading system needs to be tweaked accordingly.

"Research shows that children develop and learn at different paces and in different ways," said Johnson.

"Schools have to move toward more of a portfolio process in measuring progress and learning," she said. "A student may get an 'A' but that report card should also show where there are opportunities for improvement."

Johnson said that with the nation's drop out rate hovering around 30 percent, schools should be doing whatever they can to prevent students from getting so discouraged that they give up on their education.

Students and Grades

"By the time many students get to high school some have probably experienced so much failure on paper that they ask themselves, 'what's the point?'" said Johnson.

"For kids to see an 'F' on their work is deflating," she said.

But mom Alison Rhodes says that a little disappointment may not be so bad for the generation that has become accustomed to an "everyone is a winner" lifestyle.

"I think we're setting these kids up for failure and unrealistic exercitations because there is a consequence for not trying your best," said Rhodes, who is also known as TV's "Safety Mom." "You can't slack off and still expect to win."

"[A system where] there are no zeros or 'F's is coddling them and sending them the wrong message," she said. "A dose of reality and tough love is what they need."

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