Tuesday, August 10, 2010

No more Ds in School

Interestingly, a school district in Mt. Olive, New Jersey has decided to eliminate the grade of D in their system. They noted, "no one wants to be examined by a grade D doctor, no one wants to fly in the plane of a grade D pilot, and no one willingly chooses grade D restaurants." Thus, it seems rather inappropriate, if not unconscionable, to offer a diploma or endorsement of educational progress for students who do grade D work.

Thus, grades will now be A, B, C, and F. In the past, students could earn Ds for work that received between a 64-69%. Not anymore. Anything below a 70% is failing. However, the school is supporting academic interventions - any student who receives an F will have three days to improve the grade to passing, and the school will offer increased resources for remediation.

While I understand some criticisms of this plan, I have to say that my gut tells me this is a good thing.


south university said...

Yeah! I know this idea. It is better to be certain for passing or failing grades. Maybe some students will not agree but I know in the end they will see its benefits.

Brian Rude said...

I can't think of any good argument that a five level grading system is intrinsically better than a four level grading system, but it seems to me that that is what it boils down to logically. But if the five level system is not the best, shouldn't we also give some thought to a three level system, or a two level system? Pass-fail is a two level system. I suppose it has its place at times, but I think usually people appreciate the added information we get out of a system with more than two levels. Is a four level system best? Why? I don't know.

But I have a few thoughts that bother me just a little bit. I can't help suspecting that there is some slight of hand intended, some deception planned, some intention of fooling people to think reality is changed by making a slight change in the way we label it.

We don't want to fly with a grade D pilot? A little definition is called for here. Pilots have to undergo some sort of testing, some procedure that will separate the competent pilots from the incompetent. That is obviously desirable from society's standpoint, but not necessarily easy to do. Competence will have to be defined by some cut score. I wouldn't know how that should be done, but presumably somebody does. Is it not logically inevitable that some pilots will come out just above the cut score, and some pilots will come out just below the cut score? The difference in competence between these two levels is very small, so of two pilots in that situation one will be labeled "competent" and the other will be labeled "not competent", even though they are very, very close in their competence. The one who barely makes the grade will pilot somebody's plane. Can we call him a grade D pilot? Why not?

Brian Rude said...

Suppose the powers that control these things insist that they have no grade D pilots? Suppose they insist that they have grade A pilots, grade B pilots, and grade C pilots, but that the grade D pilots are lumped with the grade F pilots, and are not licensed. Well, they can certainly argue that if they wish. But my thinking remains that there is a cut score, and I might indeed fly with a pilot just barely over that cut score. If the powers that be take offense at my labeling him a grade D pilot, that's their problem. Reality has not changed just because we change a labeling system.

So if this school insists they have no grade D students, then I would ask what they did with them. What did they do with the students who perform on the level that we conventionally think of as grade D? I see three possibilities. Either they passed them, by giving them Cs, in which case the new labeling system seems deceptive. Or they flunked them, which means they actually raised their standards, which might be good but might also be not so good. Some people might find they are victims in some way or another when standards are raised. Or the third possibility is they split the difference some way. In this scenario a "C student" might actually be a grade D+ student, but not a D- student. Is that good? I don't know. And in this scenario an "F student" might actually be a grade D student? Is that good? Is that fair? I don't know.

As I read this it sounds like they are raising standards. Grade D students are now F students? Is everyone happy with that?

While a five level system may have no logical or intrinsic advantage over a four level system, it might be argued that a widely used system (the five level system) has the advantage of decades of cultural expectations built up around it. The public thinks they know what a grade of D means. Obviously that is wide open to challenge, but still might be of some value. And they think they know what a C student is. But if there are now no D students, then is a C student really a C student? And is it fair to an F student who would have been a D student under the old system?

I cannot escape the feeling that a little confusion brought about by the change is somehow seen to be to the school's advantage. But it seems unlikely that it is to society's advantage.

Ava said...

Every school has them, the students who just want to get by and get through. While I have mixed feelings about making it so they must excel I can see the benefit of dropping the D.
For those on the cusp of not passing I am afraid more kids will drop out. While those who are barely trying will hopefully put in just a little more effort.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

I completely agree with getting rid of Ds. I did that years ago with my basic classes. I still have Ds in my other classes, but no D+s or D-s, and I have only a 3%range (67-69%). As I told my students, D means you did lousy. It makes no sense to have Lousy + or Lousy -.

mmazenko said...


Great to hear from you. I like your standards. Some of us are handcuffed by a school standardized grading scale. That's a shame - though I understand why.