AM 760 KFMB - Talk Radio Station - San Diego, CA - Schools are now adopting "participation-trophy-style" grading pr

The Brett Winterble Show

Schools are now adopting "participation-trophy-style" grading programs

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Since when is life truly fair to us, both individually and together? There's a common train of thought that we shouldn't expect to get everything in life that we may very well deserve, even if we work extremely hard for it. Are there certain factors in life that could very well be out of your control? Sure. When we went through school and received our grades, we were, for the most part, graded on our effort as well as how well we learned the material for every single subject. So, I guess, my question is as follows: "Why zeroes on homework assignments, exams, and final grades being limited to a 50-point minimum when students show a 'good-faith effort'?"

First and foremost, I have the utmost respect for teachers all across this great country. They have a difficult task every single day of the school year, not to mention the prep work they carry out prior to every new year starting. Are there a couple bad apples that aren't necessarily great at what they do and how they teach their respective subject(s) can sometimes hinder the learning experience for the student? That's certainly a valid claim.

What I don't understand is what constitutes a "good-faith effort?" How are we supposed to measure their effort? Just by their word? I was never the best student in school and I don't think my teachers would think twice about giving me a pass if I decided not to show up for an exam or forget to turn in a homework assignment.

Tangentially, homework assignments are up for debate. I feel they are a great tool to help you learn what you need in order to pass the class and perhaps do well on the exams. We've seen countless students over the years cram for hours on hours only to get what they deem an "acceptable" grade. It's this mental mind trap we create for ourselves. It's an expectation of perfectionism that is never quite the achievable reality. Do we always want to find out how great we are in many different aspects of life, or do we want to do enough just to skate by whatever may be in front of us? It's a life-long question we'll continue to ask for many years.

Getting back to the root of the story here, an interesting passage from the Washington Post article really jumped out at me:

Amy Watkins, a math teacher at Montgomery’s Walter Johnson High School, said the practice helps students who really try but may bomb a test; the poor grade counts but it’s not impossible to overcome. The downside, she said, is that it also helps some students earn credit for a course “when they have not mastered any of the content.” Watkins said these are often students who go on to need remedial classes­ in college.

Let's look at this piece by piece... We've all studied so hard for a random quiz or even the dreaded midterms and final exams. We've foregone sleeping and carry out a power nap only to wake up and feel so ready for that test, only to receive a "C," "D," or a failing grade. This really puts us down and we feel nothing that we do will help us keep that passing grade in the class. When does any student, even the brightest student in the class, "master the content" of the class that they're attending? It's kind of an odd complex to create there. Did they excel? Absolutely, but they're not necessarily masters. That can come later in life through a few years here and there of college and extracurricular information overload. The downside is the one that really rings true with me when remedial classes are necessary in higher learning after a grade of average or less in a particular subject. How are we truly able to give a great reward when the student hardly did any of the work? It's quite the slippery slope to walk. 

Perhaps you could institute a program to where "mulligans" or "exceptions" are given out to each student every academic year or semester. Let's say in a class of 30 students, every student gets 3 mulligans or chances to pass on a homework assignment. These mulligans won't affect their grade in any way, shape or form. However, the student must be diligent in their strategy for how they want to dish out such exceptions. It seems fairly easy, and you can make it such a standard and short rule for the kids to understand. There doesn't need to be any fine print or legalese because, let's face it, if kids don't see any emojis or hashtags or trending topics or less-than-30-second videos, you'll barely grab their attention. But, I digress.

I have a possible solution and it's nowhere near fool-proof. Why don't we reinstall some classes that are absolutely vital to the lives of our future generations? Classes like English (both traditional and second-language formats), mathematics, U.S. & world history, sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics), and physical education (for some sort of exercise) should stay in the rotation, but certain classes like band, dance, art, and others of the like should be considered as electives and not necessary to graduate.

I would like to bring back mandatory classes including wood shop, auto shop, and plant more government and economics classes. The latter would provide an idea on how to plan a budget while sticking to the budget, as well as how to pay your taxes, and prepare for such expenditures down the line as an adult. I can't name every single thing that we do as an adult that needs to be in school in order to better (though not fully) prepare us for what awaits us, but one would think that you don't need to know Shakespeare, calculus, organic chemistry, or how the aboriginal people started Iceland to be a 9-to-5 (or something similar) worker in the real world. (Note: I'm not picking on Iceland in particular. I'm just using them as an example.)

I think this ultimately comes down to a couple things: there will always be a group of kids that will be on the lowest part of the totem pole, and there's really no crystal-clear way to measure effort. You might remember the story of former Steelers linebacker James Harrison who publicly admitted that he took away trophies from his kids, who received them even though their youth team didn't win their respective championship. This hit home with me because I've never felt the need to be proud of "perfect attendance," "most days without an accident in kindergarten," and "best effort given in an academic debate." I understand that school is supposed to be hard. I know it's not as easy for every single student and not everyone learns at the same rate/pace as others, but if it was super easy, everyone would pass with flying colors and there'd be no reason to hand out awards.

Do we need some sort of change in our schools' grading system? Sure, and you could debate that until the cows come home. This may seem insensitive, but not only does the student need to make a measurable effort (yes, it's still hard to define) to learn the content in their classes, do the homework and gain enough knowledge to pass said exams, midterms and other quizzes/tests required for passing the class and ultimately graduating on to the next level. We, as parents, need to do everything we can to help our kids learn their subjects with our own experience or create some easier way of learning for their child. We must remember, in the end, we can help each other. We should never feel the need to walk alone. It's okay to ask for help, but nobody should be expecting the minimum of passing grades being handed to them on a silver platter and in droves, especially if that student is going to barely complete any work or show up. 

Just remember, for what it's worth, you only get what you give and put into this great life of yours.

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