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Do We Really Need Grades?

What is the purpose of giving grades?

The Mount Olive school district, in New Jersey has eliminated the grade od “D’ from its report cards.

“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?”

The no-D policy was adopted by the school board. Even some teachers have expressed concerns that it may result in more students failing and possibly dropping out of school.

How many of us knowingly would go to a “D” doctor or fly on a n airplane piloted by a “D” pilot?  Should we allow students to pass a subject with a “D”?

Under the old system, students could pass with a 65 — 389 of the 1,500 students at Mount Olive High had a “D” on their final report cards in June — but now anything lower than a 70 will be considered failure.

While few high schools have banned D’s outright as Mount Olive has, some have sought to tamp down grade inflation by quietly tightening their standards over the years. Several New Jersey high schools, for instance, have raised the minimum for D’s to 70, which is traditionally the C-minus range, with anything below deemed an F.

Mount Olive, an above-average school in a middle-class community, is developing a support system to help students meet the tougher grading standard. When students receive a failing grade on a test, a paper or a homework assignment in the future, they will have three days to repeat the work for a C, and their parents will be notified by phone or e-mail.

Students who continue to fail will be placed on a “watch list” to receive extra-help classes, as well as tutoring from other students. If they need to make up a failed course, they will be given the option of attending an evening school, known as “Sunset Academy,” that will charge a fee of $150 per class.

While I commend the superintendent and school board of Mount Olive, I believe that we should limit grades to three, pass, exceptional and “no credit”.  It is increasingly difficult to explain to students and parents the difference between a 89 and a 90. In New York City, where I taught, some teachers gave a student a zero (0) what effect did that have on a student? Grades need to reflect achievement, not effort. A student who says, “I deserve to pass because I tried hard” doesn’t deserve to pass unless the student achieves a certain teacher-established competency in a subject.

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