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The Final Grade on 'To Pass or Not To Pass'

By guest blogger Colette Marie Bennett, author of "To Pass or Not to Pass? The End-of-Year Moral Dilemma"

Two weeks ago, I composed a First Person piece that questioned whether I should pass or fail a student in my English II class who could meet many of the benchmarks but had failed to complete the assignments. I could not justify a passing grade. The post was published in Education Week Teacher and received a spectrum of replies that ranged from the hardline stance of "flunk her" to a more forgiving "grades are meaningless so pass her" position. Some responses questioned whether assessments are necessary to measure student learning; others argued that assessments are a means to measure student responsibility. What was the most striking was that the variety of replies revealed the deep divides in teachers' and other stakeholders' opinions on assessing student performance.

There were a few comments on "how to" better measure student standards and helpful recommendations to read "The Case Against the Zero" by Douglas Reeves and revisit my late assignment policy.

Certain responses were sympathetic—the "I've been there" commiserating type—but ultimately, the seesaw of debate tipped toward taking a hardline approach. These comments concluded that failing Elena now could teach her to take responsibility in order to prevent failures in her future.

Finally, there were numerous replies urging me to speak to Elena once more as an intervention—a practice I had already performed daily the entire fourth quarter. I was quite serious when I spoke to Elena that last week of school. I did not hold out much hope after the conversation. I had heard her promises before.

But here's the updated ending: Elena strolled in the morning the day grades closed, clutching in her hand three missing major assignments—two dialectical journals and one motif paper. She sheepishly handed them to me. "I don't care if they only get a few points, but would these be enough to pass?"

Yes. The missing work, given even a few points (20/100 each) would push her G.P.A. into passing English for the year.

So I passed her.

She clearly was following the grade change on our online Powerschool, and she sent me an email soon after:

I am so excited I passed, Thanks for the second chances!! If it wasn't for those I would be taking it over. I highly appretiate [sic] it (:

Sharing the story of Elena has reassured me that I am not alone in wrestling with the obligations of judging student performance in a classroom. This forum has certainly informed me on methods I could employ in order to avoid this problem in the future. Despite the divisions in the commenters' opinions, each response indicated a desire to help me be a better teacher. I am grateful for all of your interest and support.

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