Failure Has Failed Us!

Educational Reform Starts with You

This blog is devoted to all those who are inspired to put forth any measure of effort toward educational reform.

January 22, 2019

The dreaded red F and zero-based grading systems have failed our children, our educational system and our country.

This is not an argument against “teaching kids responsibility” or “using failure to build resilience”. The processes of evolution and natural selection have equipped children with the requisite amount of resiliency to survive disastrous circumstances. If you disagree, watch a few minutes of news footage from Aleppo, Syria, Port au Prince, Haiti or Hurricane Katrina to observe adolescent resiliency in full effect.

This is an argument against a methodology of grading that has been implemented for well over a century:

# correct                      points earned              points earned              # credits earned         

# attempted                    total points                       100                       # credits attempted

The examples above all represent the same mathematical operation of division. This simple mathematical operation has caused irreparable harm to generations of learners. It has taken fresh young minds, as young as seven years of age, assigned a numerical value to them and then placed them into four distinct categories of learners:

  1. those who are capable and willing;
  2. those who are less capable and willing;
  3. those who are capable and unwilling; and
  4. those who are less capable and unwilling.

This simple mathematical operation of division has created a culture of discouragement for those who are capable or less capable and unwilling. For those who arrive at the schoolhouse door unwilling to learn, regardless of ability, there is no incentive for them to become willing participants. For those who are willing, the fear of failure and need to “outperform” others fuels their young angst filled minds. Regardless of one’s assigned category, discouragement and fear are not optimal reinforcers of learning.

Bottom line, zeroes and Fs have no place in education. So why have these punitive methods of grading become so deeply rooted as accepted educational practices? In order to answer this question, we must first ask another, who benefits?

Who Benefits?

This simple mathematical operation of division to calculate grades continues to exist not because it is educationally sound and best for children, it exists because it benefits the educational establishment.

  1. It is a simple mathematical operation.
  2. It is very efficient.
  3. It is easy to establish a line of demarcation. 64.4 = Fail; 64.5 = Pass
  4. It is easy to defend.
  5. It is accepted as past practice. “We have always done it that way.”

The educational machine that has churned out generations of neatly categorized bundles of citizens has not been challenged strongly enough to cause it to slow its gears and reflect upon its dated and detrimental grading practices.

Many have nudged the educational establishment to embrace reforms, but none have challenged it strongly enough to establish lasting culture change. Regardless of the efforts and accomplishments of those who have preceded us, we must continue to work tirelessly to establish student-centered reforms. Reforms that benefit all students, not only those who adhere to the educational establishment’s one way road map of learning.

What is Next?

  1. Abolish zero and F based grading scales in all PK-12 schools.
  2. Reform grading policies and procedures to measure learning, not achievement.
  3. Implement grading policies and procedures that encourage students to utilize their natural talents and intellect to master standards.
  4. Train educators to use grades as an incentive to promote participation in the learning process, not as a punitive measure or as a means to sort students into homogeneous categories.

The aforementioned list is not complete, feel free to comment.

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