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“What does doing 0 work but getting a grade of 50 teach a child?” No, this is not a rhetorical question, neither is it a hypothetical one. It is a question that teachers across the country seem to be dealing with (well, maybe not across the country, but at least in Virginia and Colorado).

“Why would a student get a 50% on an assignment that he did not do?” is a better question. Or perhaps: “Why would a teacher be told/directed to give a student a 50% on an assignment that was assigned but which the student did not do?” From what I understand there are two main rationales.

One: not to damage the ego of a child because, you know, getting 0% for the 0% effort he put into his schoolwork would cause his self-confidence to plummet. This is as opposed to doing 100% of the work, and working hard at it, and getting a grade that makes him proud of the work he did—or at least aware that effort is rewarded, and that you learn and improve the more work you do. That, apparently, isn’t such a sound idea these days. Perhaps it is too much of a retro idea and education theorists and philosophers are all about continually re-inventing the education wheel.

Two: too many Ds and Fs look bad for a teacher and, more importantly, a school. What would the pie charts and the bar graphs and statistics look like if a school has too many students at the bottom end of the grade alphabet? No, that’s not good because then schools would have to worry about being labeled low performing or not improving student performance enough, which is worse, apparently, than actually figuring out why a student is not doing his work and working with him—so grade inflation is the way to prevent that. (I love the word “performance,” which is as appropriate as “are you still working” when you are eating in a restaurant. Shouldn’t the word be knowledge or understanding, you know, something related to the learning process; and in relation to the restaurant, shouldn’t it be “eating,” as in are you still eating that apple pie?)

“No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” in their efforts to raise the educational level of all students, sure have resulted in some skewed practices. I understand and fully support believing in every single child in this country and giving him or her the best education possible, but encouraging kids to be lazy seems to be faulty—or lazy—logic to me.  

I have taught high school freshmen who are stunned when they receive 0s. Seriously, they are upset and confused that I don’t give them credit just because they’re such wonderful and cute kids. Someone please tell me what real-world lesson this emulates that wouldn’t result in someone going to jail—or having resulted in having some really great coupons?

Why should 14-year-olds first be learning that work=grade or that there are consequences for their actions/inactions? Wouldn’t it be better, for all of us now and into the future, if we taught kids that they are as accountable for their grades as we the educators and the parents and the administrators and society are?

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