Staff Ed: The D grade passes unprepared student and should be eliminated from CHS

Every stressed-out student has dreamed about failing an unexpected but vital exam. At Clayton, failure is an ever-looming possibility in students’ minds. But what if it was impossible to fail? What if failure was no longer an option?
New Jersey’s Mount Olive school district has recently instated a policy that changed the meaning of ‘pass.’ From now on, all students in middle and high school will have to earn a C or higher in every class, eliminating D as a passing grade and F as an option.
When a student earns a D in a class, he has mastered only 60 percent of that class’s material. Yet a D is a pass. By this standard, students can earn their high school diplomas by earning D’s in any of their core classes, the classes meant to prepare them most for life after high school.
Out of all the grades received at CHS in 2008-09, only 7 percent were D’s and F’s, but nearly 30 percent of the student population had one. This number is unacceptable and probably surprising to many members of the CHS community. Why were so many Clayton students receiving grades below 60 percent? Perhaps because the current grading system is so unforgiving to struggling students, such students just give up when they feel they cannot possibly grasp the material in time for the big test.
The wonderful thing about the grading system the New Jersey school district has adopted is that it holds students to a higher level of accountability for their own learning.
It caters to learning rather than high-stakes test taking. Students who would have failed or received a D in a class are given the opportunity to redo assignments and retake tests until they earn a 70 percent or better. So rather than penalize students who might learn more slowly than their peers, this system would allow struggling students to take a little longer to learn material they otherwise would not have mastered.

Billy, you got a D! (Mimi Liu)
Billy, you got a D! (Mimi Liu)

In a school known for its excellence in education, every student should be able to master his or her classes’ material to earn at least 70 percent. As of now, most students do earn C’s or better in all of their classes, so this change in grading policy would not have much of an effect the majority of CHS students. For students who do not earn at least a C in their classes, eliminating the D and F can only be of benefit. If a student fails, then he works harder and does the assignment again to earn an acceptable grade.
Of course, this policy would also help students who normally earn A’s, B’s and C’s. With the opportunity to retake failed tests, every student’s level of learning and GPA should increase with extra support, peer tutoring and added time to process material.
Mount Olive School District is also making changes that will keep parents aware of their students’ educational struggles by sending automated email every time a student receives below a 70 percent on an assignment so that the pressure to master material extends to parents.
The adoption of Mount Olive’s grade policy would cause students to focus more sharply on their school work in order to avoid having to redo assignments and tests deemed not up to par but would not impose the threat of failure beyond redemption. Considering its academic makeup and potential to ensure that every student master material up to and beyond 70 percent, Clayton should consider eliminating D and F as options on its grading scaling scale.