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Grade Elimination Is Counterproductive

In an attempt to boost graduation rates and protect self-esteem, school districts are rethinking grades for students ("Is it becoming too hard to fail? Schools are shifting toward no-zero grading policies," The Washington Post, Jul. 5).  The intent of this policy is laudable, but the effect will be disastrous.

I don't understand why we think we are helping students when we try to protect them from reality.  I'm talking now about high school students.  By allowing students to graduate when they haven't learned what they were supposed to shortchanges them.  They will quickly find out, whether in college or in the workplace, that they will be evaluated in one way or another.  No one cares if their feelings are hurt, and no one cares about excuses. 

Last semester, a girl at a high school in the New York City system was allowed to graduate even though she had run up a long list of absences and failed most of her classes. What made the news was that she herself said she didn't deserve her high school diploma. In short, she blew the whistle on this travesty even though it called attention to her own deficiences.  There's nothing wrong with treating high school students like the adults they are.  They can handle the truth about their real abilities if it is done fairly.

Eliminating grades and making it virtually impossible to fail hurt students far more than we realize.  It will undermine whatever little respect is still attached to a high school diploma for those students who have truly earned it.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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