Grades Part Two

 Last week we looked at grades, how they are computed, and some of the problems with grading practices in schools.  We ended with this:

Grades like John’s 68 are often used to make academic placement decisions.  In most school systems, John would have to repeat algebra rather than going on to geometry because he “failed” the class.  If John were an elementary or middle school student and earned failing grades in core classes because he didn’t do his homework, he would stand a good chance of failing the grade and having to do the entire year over again.

How should a parent do?  The questions that parents should ask the teacher in this situation are these:

  • Does my child’s grade in your class reflect his mastery of the academic material?  If not, why not?
  • Has my child met the academic standards in your class?  How is that reflected in his grade?
  • What is my child’s test grade average in your class?
  • How many zeroes has my child earned in your class?  Why do you choose to give zeroes for missing assignments?
  • What is the educational purpose of these homework assignments for my child if he does well on the tests without completing homework?
  • How will failing and repeating this class improve my child’s academic knowledge and skills?


Ask to see:
  • The grade book
  • The grading rubric  (how the grade is computed)
Here are some educationally appropriate interventions and accommodations for students who master the material but do not complete all homework assignments.  Parents can propose these solutions in IEP or 504 meetings, or simply ask teachers to differentiate for their child.  

  • If a student earns good grades on tests and is mastering the material, do not require homework.  (This accommodation, often made for gifted students, makes a lot of sense.)
  • Don’t grade homework.  Those who want to do well in the class will find that completing the homework is of significant benefit.  In other words, homework completion is automatically reflected in the final grade.
  • Use a check/minus system for homework (100 for a check, 60 for a minus) and make the homework grade just 5 or 10% of the final grade. 
  • Award the academic grade based on the grades the student earns on tests and completed assignments.  Add a behavior grade to the report card to evaluate work habits such as failure to complete assignments.
  • Use the homework grade as extra credit.
Challenge 9: Zeroes

Sit down with your child and compute some hypothetical final grades.  

Make a list of any five numerical grades.
Add them up, and divide by five.  
Make one of the grades a zero, then add and divide again.  

Children are usually amazed at what just one zero can do to their grade in a class.

Another grading practice that is closely related to zeroes is giving a student such a low grade at midterm that it is impossible for that student to pull it together and pass the class.  Teachers are just shooting themselves in the foot when they do this, because when all hope is gone, that student has no reason to do anything in the class other than make trouble.

Let’s look at an example.  Jerry had a lot of problems at the beginning of the school year.  He was often tardy or truant, he didn’t study, and he didn’t do homework.  When the first quarter report card came out, here were his grades:

English    43        Civics        51
Algebra    52        Biology    60

Jerry has been working with a counselor and decides he wants to get his act together.  He’s finally motivated.  What grades would he need to get in the second quarter to get a 70 in all of these classes and barely pass them?

English    97        Civics        89
Algebra    88        Biology    80

Jerry immediately sees that English is a lost cause, and he doesn’t have much of a fighting chance in algebra and civics either.  The only class in which he might be able to pull it out is biology.  What would you do if you were Jerry?  I can tell you what most young people do – they give up.  So much for turning over a new leaf.  Goodbye to motivation.

What makes the difference in biology?  Why is that the one class in which Jerry has a chance to succeed?  Biology certainly isn’t easier than the other classes.  The difference in this example is that the biology teacher uses a 40 point scale for grading – a scale from 60 – 100.  No student ever gets a report card grade below 60, because grades below 60 are a hole that nobody can climb out of.  The biology teacher believes that students should still have a chance to succeed as far into the semester as possible.  He also knows from experience that kids who don’t have a chance to pass a class are a thorn in everybody’s side because they have nothing to lose.

Check out the grading policies at your child’s school?  Are the policies punitive, or do they reflect an overriding interest in learning and mastering the academic material?

This article is excerpted from The Savvy Parent’s Guide to Public School.

The Savvy Parent’s Guide to Public School is an invaluable resource for parents of school-age children.  Alice Wellborn offers a practical guide to help parents navigate the frustrating world of public education.  Designed to empower parents to work effectively with teachers and school administrators, the book provides parents with the information and tools they need to become strong partners in their child’s school community.

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