No more D grades?

So in my home state of NJ, which has a pretty good track record when it comes to educational results a school district in Mount Olive just passed a reformation of their grading system that eliminated “D” grades. The idea is that some students just shoot for a D and don’t try to advance further. Eliminating the D will make students more responsible for work and “raise the bar” in quality of work.

Personally as a teacher I saw a lot of that “just do the bare minimum” attitude from the students in classes. Not so much in my choir classes, but it was pretty apparent in music theory.I do think it is a good idea to up the grade requirements for students, but I am not sure it will really solve the problem.

Why is no one looking at what we are expecting of the student to see of there is a problem? Why are we still using an archaic letter grade system rather than an ideographic approach, where the student is graded based on their own progress? In my theory class for example students took the “aim low” approach mostly when they were forced into the class,which when you are a arts/music teacher that happens a lot. Our goal as the teacher is to try to motivate the student and make a connection between what we are teaching and their own lives. I simply don’t think eliminating grades and making more students fail is a solution. Covering up grades with more failings does not answer why the student is failing.

This leads me to another educational question: Why is failing so horrible? Throughout all of my jobs and careers I learned the most from my failings. Failing not only reminds us that we have more to learn but it can motivate you to work even harder. I can still remember how frustrated I was in high school math because I was so horrible at it, but it made me just work that much harder, and savor those C grades even more than an A in music theory. I was always more proud of the C since I really had to work hard at it. Why is that effort not lauded and praised? I am not saying everyone should just get an OK grade so they feel good, but none of that growth or learning progress will ever translate onto a college transcript. It is all about the letters, the SAT score…

Now do not get me wrong I do not want to come across here as anti-teacher. Much to the contrary I found that while most teachers are more than encouraging with the students they are also under the pressure of the bottom line. How many “A” grades will make or break your teaching career in some school districts, as well as how far along you have gone. While you might want to spend weeks and weeks getting a concept down you simply are not allotted the time. I can still remember my first musc theory class I taught in high school. I am sure that I could have gotten every student to understand key signatures if I was given the time to do so, but if they did not cover everything in the course they would be ineligible for the AP class next year. Now I ask again what is more important actually learning (depth) or just getting through the material (breadth)?

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