Politics & Policy

Maryland County’s High Schools May Ban Grades Below 50 Percent

(Del Pozo/Reuters)

Prince George County schools in Maryland are considering a policy that would ban teachers from giving their high school students a grade below 50 percent in their first three quarters.

As NBC Washington describes it, the policy would make it so “the lowest grade a student could earn in the first three quarters would be 50 percent.”

(Note: This description is, of course, factually incorrect. Based on the meaning of words, a student with an average of zero still would have “earned” only a zero. Really, the correct way to describe the promoted policy it would be: “The lowest grade students could be told that they earned,” but hey, what do facts matter?)

According to NBC, the policy would also ban students from getting lower than a 50 percent on any individual assignment “as long as the student shows effort.”

The thing is that this change – well-intentioned or not — would in fact make grading less fair than it is under the current policy. After all, whether or not a student “shows effort” is subjective. This would create a situation that wouldn’t just allow, but at times actually require teachers to grade based on how they felt about a student, rather than based on what that student had objectively achieved.

And then, of course, there’s this: There is a huge difference between getting half of something correct and getting none of it correct. (In fact, under this policy, it’s a difference just as large as what a student could be told they earned for getting nothing correct versus what a student would earn for getting everything correct.) A student who gets an entire assignment wrong knows zero of the subject material, and that is not acceptable, regardless of how hard he or she may have tried. A student in this situation needs more help or to work harder, plain and simple. After all, isn’t school supposed to be about actually learning the material you’re taught?

As unfair as you may think it is, we live in a results-based society. Shielding these students from that fact does not help them; it makes them think that the world is expected to care whether or not they tried. Sure, some employers may care about effort, but not all of them will, and none of them have to. This policy would prevent young people from being exposed to a reality that they will have to eventually confront – and likely in an environment that would be less conducive to learning from mistakes than a high school.

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online

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