Like many hot topics in education, there are valid points made on both sides of the discussion by very smart people. However, in most cases one side usually turns out to be clearly better. Even very smart people can be wrong every now and then.
Cases for giving unearned grades:
*It might hurt the self esteem of the child. Uh, yeah. This thinking is one of the number one causes of the wussification of America (and Canada too it looks like). Whatever happened to teaching kids how to deal with tough situations and failure?
*Teachers and schools are judged by passing rates. This one is hard to argue with. Compensation, and sometimes the very survival of some teachers and schools depend on passing rates. The question for people in those situations, then, becomes "What is more important, your well being or the well being of the people you are teaching?" It is a shame that sometimes it comes down to having to make a choice between the two.
*A zero and a score of 100 percent still averages to an F. This is unfair! Um, no. This means that you know 50% of the total material.
*Statistics show that kids who are held back have a higher chance of going to jail, committing murder, etc. So don't fail anyone! Hmmmmm. So was it the failing that made these students turn into criminals, or were they the criminal types already? Sounds like a case for Freakonomics to investigate. Using that logic, if studies show that people who don't pass the test for a drivers license the first time have a higher chance of causing accidents, then we should just pass everyone who takes the test, regardless of how they do. Problem solved!
I think the key in this discussion is to look at the long term impact of giving students free points or even free yearly passes. Yes, letting a student slide by because you are afraid of what would happen to them if they were left behind sounds like you are being kind and thoughtful. But it is damaging to them in the long run.
The problem with the practice of passing students for entire grades (and therefore, giving out free diplomas) is that you are weakening the value of graduating. It used to mean something to graduate from high school. It used to mean something to pass a grade. The reason these things had value is because you actually used to have to do something to get credit. When these things are automatically given to every student who gives effort (or just shows up in some cases), diplomas aren't worth the paper they are printed on. It seems like a case of cooking the books to me. The more we let any and everyone graduate, the lower the value of a high school diploma becomes.
We are going down a dangerous road in education if we continue giving students credit for work that they did not do. I know that our system of education is currently being criticized and changed, but let's be careful about assuming that any change will automatically be for the better.
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