School overrides teachers grades because parents complain?

I’ve written before about my concern that in our zeal to ensure no-one ever feels badly about their accomplishments that everyone gets a trophy and wins a medal we’re actually creating a generation of children who can’t actually handle the win/lose realities of adult life.

All the warm fuzzy thoughts about valuing everyone, everyone’s a winner, etc, is great, but with the exception of a few odd pockets here and there in the world, my experience in life is that it’s actually a dog-eat-dog jungle. There are definitely “win:win” situations, but there are also “win:lose” situations, and that’s okay.

Take this blog entry. We all have finite hours in a day and by reading this blog entry, you’re not reading someone else’s entry. I won, they lost. The people doing something else other than reading this article? I lost ’em. Win, lose. If we all cross-link, though, you can’t actually read all of our articles so somewhere, at some point, someone has to lose.

you got a gold starDon’t worry, though, I’m not a pessimist. Far from it. In fact, I believe that hope is one of the most fundamental of human emotions and it’s what helps us get up in the morning and strive for something better in our lives.

I prefer to think of myself as a pragmatic optimist, however, because I also believe that we can’t cure world hunger, we can’t make everyone equal and we’ll never stop being attracted to winners, even as we ceaselessly learn about their dark sides and secrets.

For children, the challenge is that they don’t really have a world view yet and if us parents are doing our job well, they’re shielded and protected from the worst, the ugliest of the world around them.

Often, the shielding begins at school with helicopter parents and extreme liberal teachers who are more worried everyone gets a gold star than that the children are challenged to better themselves. A generation of students where 75% is an “A-” once the curve is applied and are in shock when they learn life is actually kinda hard and there are people out there who aren’t committed to your success and some who actively dislike you. Just because.

With this in mind, you can only imagine my reaction when I saw my daughter had ended up with a mediocre grade in one of her classes and then two days letter received the following note from the school (altered to protect privacy):

Dear parents,

This fall we welcomed a new teacher to our school. During the semester, M- made clear to the students that poor effort and/or behavior would be reflected in their grade. At the end of the semester, many students were quite surprised by the grades they received. We know that many parents were, too. Though we support M-‘s work with the class and his judgement on the grading, we have a commitment in the high school to notify parents when a student is likely to receive a poor grade. This part did not happen to our satisfaction.

After considering various options, we have decided to offer pass/fail to students who are not satisfied with their grades in this course. This course will then not be reflected in the student’s GPA. For students who earned a grade that they would like to keep, they can opt to have that grade included in the GPA. There is no stigma on a transcript for a P/F course, as others will be graded this way as well over the four years of high school.

We are sorry for the confusion about this and believe that this solution, while not excusing poor effort on the part of those who received low grades, best represents our efforts to grade fairly and give students (and their parents) fair warning when they are not meeting expectations in a course.

Let me [rather cynically] translate in case it’s a bit confusing: we hired a new teacher who hadn’t learned to water down his grades and when he actually gave some of the lazier students a poor grade, parents complained and instead of standing behind the teacher, we overrode his evaluation and changed the grade to “pass”. No worries, though, on the transcript a “pass” looks a lot better than a “C” or “C-“.

Yeah, kinda cynical of me, I admit. it’s not quite as bad as I am characterizing in the above paragraph, but still, is it just me, or does this seem more like the act of a school that’s parent body is worried more about GPA for college admissions than the fact that their son or daughter just didn’t do well in a class and needs to do better next time to keep up a good GPA?

Is it much of a step from this to a school that offers “college-ready GPA” and has double-books? You know, one set of grades that actually evaluate the student on the various subjects and courses, and another that’s the official transcript to ensure that little Jane or Joey can get into the Ivy League of their choice…?

8 comments on “School overrides teachers grades because parents complain?

  1. Way to throw an obviously responsible teacher under the bus! We’re certainly not doing our kids any favors by lumping everyone together into one big collective big group grade HUG. Kids need to be positively encouraged. They need to be rewarded for honest effort, and face consequences when they fail to meet expectations. Period.

  2. The greatest class I ever took was my seventh grade chemistry class. Our instructor very clearly stated that if we did everything he asked to standards, we’d receive a C, and to get a higher grade, we’d have to go above and beyond. At the end of the semester, only six of the 20 students had received higher than a C, the highest grade being a B-. Each of the six worked hard, spent time with the teacher doing extra work, produced a more polished notebook of assignments, and had a better grasp of the material. Had my teacher not offered his time and energy helping those six students achieve more than the standard, it would’ve been his fault the students didn’t perform better. Because he offered time, feedback, and effort, it made the class challenging, difficult, incredibly educational, and an exercise in hard work and commitment.

    You make a good point about the curve system, the lack of more rigid standards, and the softer expectations on student of today, but I think your evidence is misinterpreted. The letter murkily states that “[notifying] parents when a student is likely to receive a poor grade” was the reason this was an issue and not the grade itself. Perhaps you are correct in saying that the poor grades themselves are truly the problem, and it’s probably true that parent action was the result of the grades and not notification, but at least the school’s actions can’t be attributed to parental complaints nor simply low grades.

    While I certainly applaud any instructor willing to give kids a fair dose of reality, the entire reason why parent-teacher conferences and feedback are offered is to allow kids more leeway and assistance to grow into students. Without sufficient communication, clear guidelines, and a nurturing leader, kids are merely fumbling in the dark. A nurturing leader addresses both having a good teacher and involved parents, and there’s no way to tell on which (or both) fronts these students lacked or if they were merely poor students.

  3. Sadly, this is not a shock to me. I live in one of the cities that was voted one of “the best places to raise a family”. In this city, if a student or parent doesn’t like a grade they got on their report card, they can have it expunged or changed. As a parent, I think this is the worst message we can send to our kids. Worse, blame is often placed on the teacher. The teacher didn’t do their job. Even though my kids are only in Elementary school, I hold them accountable for their grades. If they are not where I think they should be, I don’t blame the teacher. I sit my kids down, we figure out what contributed to the grade and we work at home to bring it back up. My daughter had 2 grades slip to a “c” last nine weeks. After talking, she told me she had problems hearing her teachers because the class has been loud. Together, we decided that she would take the responsibility of keeping her planner up to date and each night we would go over her current studies. So far she has brought home 100% on all her papers.
    I think it’s time we stopped blaming the teachers, erasing lazy grades and teach our children the value of working hard to meet a goal. My daughter wants straight “A”‘s. I agreed to help her. It’s my responsibility to show her how to do it. Not just erase the 2 “c”‘s like they never existed. What does that teach them?

    • I agree. I’ve learned NOT to agree with the consensus on most things…ie:”Best this” or “Most popular that” etc…

  4. As have others here, I completely agree with the sentiment expressed. Rather than attempt to address the problem, the school has simply added a pass/fail veneer – specifically designed to offer a more palatable alternative for those who didn’t achieve a good grade. That said, the letter implies that the school is prepared to give bad grades when necessary, but that it will warn parents so as to allow them to address the problem before it affects the GPA.

    My concern as a parent would be that this situation shows the school to be focused on the GPA rather than the academic development of the child. The former should be a measure of the latter and I would be concerned that the school is not accurately measuring or publishing its rate of success.

    And this exposes a fundamental pointlessness (long-term, at least) to the proceedings, since a GPA is used by colleges – legitimately – to determine academic ability. Once schools undermine this, colleges are simply forced to find alternative means to measure students against each other.

    So, the important question: does your daughter’s original grade still stand? ; )

  5. Great discussion, thanks. What I didn’t mention originally was that my daughter’s grade was, as best I can recall from her transcript, a “B-“. A crisis? Hardly. And she acknowledged that she didn’t do well in the class and was aware she wasn’t performing to her potential. My concern with the situation is what defines “doing poorly”: if a student is getting a “B-” or even a “C” is that sufficiently poor performance to justify a round of parental notifications? I mean, isn’t a “C” an “average” grade, so shouldn’t a fair number of students end up with that grade?

    In terms of whether she’ll switch to pass/fail or not, I have left that up to her. Since she is learning to be conscious of her GPA I will note that she said “that’ll help my GPA!” when alerted that she has the pass/fail option instead of her grade. Still, my concerns remain…

  6. I used to open every one of my classes with “There are only 3 ways to flunk this class: 1) don’t show up, 2) don’t do the work, 3) cheat. If you show up and do the work (and don’t cheat)? It’s my job to get you proficient in this to the point where you can pass the class. Passing means getting a C. To get anything higher than a C, you’ll have to do everything outlined in the page on the syllabus in front of you.”
    I can’t imagine the stress of teaching at a place where the administration would do something like changing things to a P/F because someone might have a passing grade that s/he didn’t like. Horrid.

  7. Unfortunately, as a parent at your child’s school I’m painfully aware of how much the helicopter parents determine the course of the teacher & admin’s actions, sometimes with positive & sometimes with negative results. I am surprised by the conclusion they arrived at. What about offering a chance for all the kids to raise their grades by writing an extra paper, doing an extra project or taking an extra test? That way everyone could have honestly worked hard & improved or not! I don’t think it’s an overall pattern at the school so “double booking” shouldn’t be a concern. I think what’s key is how you interacted with your daughter, allowing her to admit she really hadn’t applied herself to her full potential and her grade reflected it. Her self reflection will allow her the choice to apply herself better or not in the future being fully aware of the consequences.

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