I still remember my first “F”. It was devastating. I was one of those perfectionists in school and when I received a 50% on a 4th grade math test from screwing up long division, I nearly lost it. “My mom is gonna KILL ME!!!” I’ve learned a few things since then: 1. Division is MUCH better on a calculator and 2. An F is really not that big of a deal. When I went home that day, with butterflies in my stomach and ready to burst out crying, my mom looked at the test and smiled. She simply said, “You’ll do better on the next one. Just work harder next time!” That F became motivation, it actually encouraged me to work harder and I was prepared to dominate the next test.
So, I only mention this because the other day my mom called me and told me that the middle school and elementary school I went to changed it’s grading systems to 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s, where 3 is the highest “grade” you can get. Um, what?! This sparked some curiosity, and it turns out, this is nothing new. The program is called Z.A.P. (Zeroes aren’t permitted). It gives students an “H” instead of an “F”. The H simply stands for “Held”, meaning that the student can redo the assignment and turn it in again. Z.A.P. gives a redo to students, students can’t “fail” anymore, and it’s more fair to some students. Kids who struggle to understand the material can try again, and next time, they may understand the material much better and may be able to receive a better grade because of Z.A.P.. But, there are many critics to this:
They point to case studies in Grand Rapids, Mich., where public high schools are using the “H” grading system this year and, according to reports, only 16 percent of first-semester “H” grades became passing grades in the second semester.
It isn’t entirely effective and if you think about it, it actually rewards students that are not that motivated. It tells them that everything is all right, you will get another shot to fix this mistake. And in this world, when kids grow up, they don’t exactly get many second chances in the workplace. Michael Petrilli, a research fellow in Stanford’s department of education, states in the article linked above,
‘If you’re getting a zero, that usually means you didn’t turn in the assignment or do the job correctly’, he said. ‘All this does is create cynicism among educators and send signals to students that the education system is not serious about achievement’…’It does not take a lot to pass a high school course,’ he said. ‘If we have kids not meeting the standard, the answer is not to lower the standard.’
We keep trying to make a more fair environment for students, but as a result, these students are being rewarded for giving a minimal effort.
This isn’t the only thing that’s changing in the education system either. Valedictorians may not exist for much longer either. In high schools in Boulder, there are valedictorians instead of a single valedictorian, and they’re performing a skit, instead of the typical ten minute speech. Getting rid of a single valedictorian will make things more fair, will reward more kids, and will reduce competition in the classroom. Becoming valedictorian was an unfeasible goal for many kids in high school, but now it’s actually feasible to accomplish that goal.
But once, again, there are consequences for equity in the classroom. Class rankings are becoming more and more meaningless. Many schools are just getting rid of class rankings all together. And, this is a problem. In this article, William M. Shain, dean of undergraduate admissions at Vanderbilt stated,
‘The less information a school gives you, the more whimsical our decisions will be,’ he said. ‘And I don’t know why a school would do that.’
Shain outright states that losing class rankings hurts students when applying to college. Is this really fair to students who have worked hard all through high school? These students cannot distinguish themselves from other students anymore. At some point, there has to be a reward for the boy/girl who worked hardest in the class and wants to be the valedictorian, not a valedictorian.
Schools have to start thinking about what these new proposals are doing to some of the better students in schools. Sure, kids may not fail anymore and sure, the classroom may be more fair, equal, and less competitive, but it’s all starting to feel like a sports league for small children. Everybody gets a trophy, win or lose. When these students grow up, they have to know there are winners and losers. People get rewarded for being the best and the people who don’t try hard enough feel the consequences.
In the end, are these schools making the right decisions by making these policies? Is it better to make everyone a winner or to reward the highest ranked? Do schools reward the group as a whole, or the individuals who are the best?