A Glimmer of Sanity Returns

by Terry 10/13/2008 9:40:00 AM

When I first read this I thought it was a joke.

Seattle high-schoolers can now get failing grades

Seattle Public Schools has changed its high-school grading policy to include E grades, a mark more commonly known as an F. In the past, students who did not pass a class earned an N, which did not affect their grade-point averages.

I could not believe the Seattle school district had ever fallen so far as to allow kids to effectively erase the failing grades from a student’s grade point average. That practice ultimately sets kids up for failure. Not just the poor-performing kids, but the better than average kids as well.

"When students receive an E or an N, they don't get any credit toward graduation. The E, however, counts as a zero when calculating a student's grade-point average. An N does not. So a student with three A's and three E's would have a grade-point average of 2.0. A student with three A's and three N's would have a perfect grade-point of 4.0."

In the, thankfully, now abolished system, a poor performing student could appear to be, superficially, a stellar student. This creates the obvious pitfall of setting the child up for failure in a college they are not likely to succeed or ever graduate from, or failing at a job they are not qualified for.

What may not be so obvious is the grade inflation this would give a clever, above average student. It would not take a genius kid to figure out how to work their own grades to maximize their GPA by, for example, turning a B or B+ into an A- GPA. In a school of a 1000 kids, I would bet a fair percentage would capitalize on this system. This creates the same setup for failure. Kids appear more qualified than their grades would otherwise indicate. Granted, by not as much as the ‘failing’ kid might ‘benefit’, but across the whole it would still have an effect.

How would any of this ever serve a child’s best interest? It can’t. I think every chance a kid can get to succeed is great, but ultimately a person has to stand on their own skills. The system the Seattle school district used for seven years did not stand children up on their own skills; it placed them on thin ice with no foundation to stand on. Even the B+ student, masquerading as an A- student suffers. For example, if an employer uses the GPA of a two applicants as a tie breaker for a demanding job, the lesser-skilled person may get hired. While it is possible the new hire will succeed in the job, it is also more likely that the employer hired the wrong person. Not only does the employer lose and the new hire lose, but so does the person who did not get the job.

On a once-off basis this is not a big issue, but aggregated across thousands of students over seven years, it skews the averages and hurts everyone. It is economy of scale in reverse.

Thankfully some measure of sanity returned to the school district. It still horrifies me this hideous joke was allowed at all. The joke is on the alumni of the Seattle school district, but no one should be laughing.

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About Terry Losansky

Terry Dee Losansky

I am a software architect, actively practice and teach martial arts and live in Snoqualmie, Washington. I have an amazing daughter who is the jewel of my life.

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