Sunday, March 23, 2008

The New Math: 0 = 50

At first glance, this proposal out of Arlington annoys me:

A change in how F's are given, along with mandatory lunch-time study halls, are making it a lot harder for students to fail at an Arlington middle school these days.

Evidence can be found in statistics at Haller Middle School, where the number of students earning an F dropped from 110 to 31 during the second quarter of classes from last year to this year. The total number of F's plummeted from 233 to 53.

"Are we just going to let kids sit in a class and fail?" said Haller Principal Eric DeJong. "Our answer is 'no.' We are going to give them every chance to pass."

Perhaps the toughest tenet for education traditionalists to accept is Haller's new approach to what constitutes an F. Students who don't complete their work are given a 50 instead of a zero.


DeJong knows that idea is hard for some people to swallow, but he believes it is the right thing to do, both mathematically and ethically.

"The bottom line is an A and F should average out to a C," DeJong said. "But a 100 and a zero don't average out to a C. It is still an F. I see this as being fair to kids."

I can see the attraction; if you lower the number of Fs and give more kids a chance to succeed, maybe they'll reach high and get there.

The problem I see here, though, is that the change might be completely artificial, and the rate of learning could be unchanged. If I'm a little bastard and I know that I'll get 50% for any assignment whether I do it or not, I only have to try on every other assignment to earn a C. If I can get a 90% on the work I do turn in, I'll get a 70% overall, and I've been rewarded for not doing all that much.

I can see how a 0 would really drag a kid's grade down, but it feels like the discretion on what to do with that kid should be left to the teacher, to me.


Jim Anderson said...

Quoth DeJong: "... an A and F should average out to a C."

Well, if the student tries and fails with a 50%, that A and F will average out quite nicely.

I could understand an argument for giving students no less than 50% for trying. But for not trying at all?

TeacherRefPoet said...

"Are we just going to let kids sit in a class and fail?" the principal asks.

The answer: No. You're going to let them just sit...JUST a class and pass. That's awful. Just awful.

Dr Pezz said...

You and I are thinking alike. I was going to post about this tomorrow. :)

I think if grades are weighted with homework/classwork at 10% or so and the bulk of the points for showing mastery then I could see doing this with the homework grades. If the idea is simply to keep students working--not discouraging them--then the results should appear in the mastery assignments.

I don't think it's a wise practice for mastery assignments (tests, papers, projects, and the final).

For example, I will excuse any practice assignments not completed if the mastery assignment (for which those practices were designed) is a B or better. This way students are not penalized for an unnecessary (for them) practice or for a practice which wasn't completely finished. The kid still showed mastery, and that's really my goal.