Monday, May 19, 2008

Redefining Failure as Passing

Some educators are making the argument that students deserve credit for doing nothing. They argue for eliminating the ability of teachers to give zeroes for work not performed and instead giving students a minimum score of 50.

A report in USA Today explains the reasoning behind this "emotional academic debate:"

Other letter grades — A, B, C and D — are broken down in increments of 10 from 60 to 100, but there is a 59-point spread between D and F, a gap that can often make it mathematically impossible for some failing students to ever catch up.

This creates what Douglass Reeves, who somehow heads an organization referred to as an "educational think tank," describes as a "classic mathematical dilemma: that the students have a six times greater chance of getting an F."

He does not explain the difference between a classic mathematical dilemma and a nondescript one, but the reader might surmise that he was just relieved to be able to claim it as a mathematical dilemma, as opposed to a logical one. If he were up to resolving a logical dilemma, he might recognize that making more than 60 has nothing to do with "chance," as though grades were determined by rolling a series of dice, but it has to do with whether the student demonstrates the minimal knowledge necessary for passing.

The reason that schools want to stop giving zeroes is that some educators measure their success based on whether students pass, not on whether they learn anything. If those who learn nothing can still pass, so much the better.

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