Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Do We Need Ds?

Mt. Olive school district in New Jersey has abolished the grade of D. At first I thought this was an instance of grade inflation, or self-esteem inflation. As I read their reasons, though, I am not sure what to think.

The district thought some students were calculating what they needed to just scrape by, and doing the minimum. This is undoubtedly true. The school figured that if they raised the minimum, those kids would raise their level of work, too. This is also probably true.

I learned some years ago a scale of what grades mean that I have found helpful.
A = Demonstrates excellence
B = Demonstrates competence
C = Suggests competence [this is the heart of the system]
D = Suggests incompetence
E, F, U = Demonstrates incompetence

In my classes, the difference between a D and a C is almost always a matter of working harder, not of having sufficient brainpower. When I spell out how I interpret a C vs. a D, this often gets the slackers to work a bit harder.

Still, I am sure that if the next step below "suggests competence" was "demonstrates incompetence," those same students would work harder still.

Do perhaps we do not need the D.

I would welcome your thoughts.

7 comments:

Black Sea said...

I don't see a clear distinction between "demonstrates" and "suggests" competence. I'd interpret the latter to mean, "I'd like to believe that this work is competent, though really, I don't."

In my grading scheme, I do view both Ds and Fs as failing grades, in the sense that the work is below any acceptable level of performance. Therefore, C means acceptable, but no more.

I was interested to learn that Stanford has eliminated the F. Apparently, simply by virtue of being at Stanford, one's work merits at least a D.

Victoria Crowell said...

I like your system as it stands. I think to make it more difficult would start to discourage some students who are trying, but have a difficult time. (I think it encourages them that just a bit more effort gets them a C.)

ceemac said...

My HS did not have D's. But we did have 2 failing grades: F and lowF. It's an independent boarding school named after a city in the mtns of NC. The school has sent a few folks to Centre through the years.

It has been 35 years and I don't know if they have the same grading scale but it was something like this:

A: 85-100
B: 73-85
C: 60-72
F: 50-59
LF: less than 50

Despite the fact that it only took an 85 to get an "A" less than 10% of the school had anything close to a straight A average in any grading period.


An interesting quirk of the system:

A grade of less than 50 on a final exam meant you failed the class no matter what your average was before the final. A grade above 60 on the final meant you passed the class no matter what your average was before the final. We had 2 hr finals at Christmas and 3 hr finals at the end of the school year.

Not sure where this system originated. Imagine it must have been close to waht was used by the Ivies in late 19th or early 20th centuries.

Gruntled said...

Black Sea, are you sure about Stanford and the F? I found a reference to them restoring the F in 1994, having dropped it in the early '70s, but nothing since.

Black Sea said...

A colleague whose daughter graduated from Stanford told me abou this. My friend is 60, so I'm guessing his daughter was at Stanford around 10 years ago. This is as much as I know about it.

Sister Edith said...

My college has a policy that I cannot understand, and don't support. In courses designated as fulfilling a General Education requirement, a grade of D is sufficient to satisfy the requirement. Yet if a student needs the same specific introductory course for his or her major, a minimum grade of C is required, because only a C indicates the minimal level of competence with the theories, content, and thinking skills of that discipline.

If, as we say, nurses and other professionals who graduate are better prepared than 2-year program nurses because they have the ability to think broadly, and they have competence across these many areas, a minimum grade of C would be required for that too.

I don't understand a grade whose that indicates a student didn't learn enough for the department to consider his or her success adequate, but somehow this isn't failing.

In practice, very few students earn a D in my courses.

Gruntled said...

I can see more use for a D as a midterm grade than a final.