Education

Cumberland schools inflate failing grades to prevent dropouts

Posted January 10, 2012

Map Marker  Find News Near Me

— Cumberland County Schools has put a minimum failing grade in place to encourage high school students to stay in school, but some teachers argue the policy is an education in laziness and irresponsibility.

Superintendent Frank Till said Tuesday that teachers must not give high school students a grade lower than 60 percent for the first two quarters of each semester. Sixty percent is still an "F," but it's only 10 percentage points away from a passing grade.

"The whole idea was to not fail students early in the semester and (to) give them a chance to get their act together," Till said.

When asked if a student could just skate through the first part of the semester without doing anything in the hopes of making up for it later, Till acknowledged that it's possible.

"If a student has the ability to do that, then yes, a student can do that, without a doubt," he said. "Anybody can beat the system, but the idea is really about the students who need an extra boost."

Department of Public Instruction spokeswoman Sara Clark said it's up to individual districts to decide whether to impose a minimum failing grade, but that the state's grade scale calls for anything below a 69 percent to be an "F."

Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Frank Till Does inflating failing grades help or hurt Cumberland students?

Former Jack Britt High School teacher Ben Van Etten believes the policy teaches the wrong lessons.

"Say you have another kid who's trying hard and he also gets a 60. How is that fair? What lesson is that teaching both those children?" Van Etten said. "You've got to teach them early – as painful as it is – that you get what you earn."

In the past, schools were encouraged to not give students failing grades early in the semester, but Till has now formalized the policy and made it uniform across all schools.

Award-winning Jack Britt High, for example, still gave students less than a 60 when necessary. Other schools had minimum grades ranging from 60 to 69.

Till said the policy is designed to keep students in school, not reward slacking.

"If they fail at the beginning of the year, they stop coming to class, and they'll become a dropout," he said.

Van Etten said he believes students are ill-served by getting a grade that doesn't reflect their level of effort. The policy fails to teach young people the accountability they'll need when they leave school and enter the work force, Van Etten said.

"If you're giving a kid a 60 when he's earned a 25 or 30 or a 40, you're not communicating," he said. "To me, it's almost dishonest to do it that way."

Other school districts have similar policies in place. In Durham, the minimum grade is 60 for the first three quarters of a year-long course.

Clark said the state does not have data on how many school districts have a minimum failing grade, but she noted that low "F"s can have a damaging impact on a student's average.

170 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Plenty Coups Jan 13, 2012

    hrhooton-"So instead of dumbing down my hard earned diploma and college education and making me a juvenile babysitter, give them an alternative that will make them decide how the rest of their life is going to turn out."

    I don't disagree with your post. I think you misunderstood my point. I am pointing out the reasons schools resort to these policies (which I strongly disagree with also). I am also pointing out the duplicity of conservatives who try to use high dropout rates as political ammunition in their fight against public schools without recognizing their own part in it by insisting we fail kids perpetually if they aren't performing at college prepatory level. 16 year old eighth graders tend to drop out.

  • hrhooton07 Jan 13, 2012

    Plenty Coups - 1st, not everyone is going to a 4 year university and that is ok! We need more willing to take the community college route and develop those programs for plumbers, electrician, etc. Also, what do you suppose happens to these kids once they are given (not earn) their diploma? They go on to do great and powerful things and become important and outstanding figures in society? NO ... and either way the taxpayer is supporting them until our government decides that having 5 children you can't feed and cloth has to stop. So instead of dumbing down my hard earned diploma and college education and making me a juvenile babysitter, give them an alternative that will make them decide how the rest of their life is going to turn out.

    Also .... the underlying and most unaddressed issue that contributes to this type of action is PARENTS!! Parents that don't care are ruining this country! They don't know what respect is and therefore cannot teach it to their children!

  • Plenty Coups Jan 12, 2012

    Bilzac-"But even if students WERE allowed to fail when they've earned it, what do you propose to DO with these kids who fail? If this policy irritates you and causes you to make all kinds of disparaging remarks about teachers and public education (yet again), I don't suppose you'd be too interested in government programs to help these kids find the ability to support themselves. So what do we do with them?

    And when do the parents ever have to be held accountable for these kids?"

    Excellent post. They try to insist that every student should excel even if the student has no interest in education. They try to insist that kids should be held accountable (I agree btw) but then criticize the schools for holding them accountable, or if it ends in kids dropping out (grade retention is the number one cause of dropping out of school). They insist schools reduce dropouts but then complain when grades are inflated.

  • babsd24 Jan 12, 2012

    I am so glad my child has graduated and out of the school system. I would be so very upset if I had a child that came home with a 60 let alone that the school gave them a 60 when it should have been a 30. How do you know what your child is really able to do if the school covers up the true grade?????

  • babsd24 Jan 12, 2012

    Making is so that all students graduate no matter the grade.... how is this helping them in the real world. IT WONT!

  • babsd24 Jan 12, 2012

    Why would you not just give each student an Eye-que test then Then hold each student accountable for what he is able to do. The system is making it way to easy for kids to stay lazy!

  • babsd24 Jan 12, 2012

    If you have a student that is giving it all he or she has and still only scores a 60 you don't need to lower the scale for all you need to take a look at assistance for the student that just cannot get above a 60 in the classes. There are other avenues for students that cannot make the grade put them in place instead!

  • BIlzac Jan 12, 2012

    By the way, most teachers I have ever worked with would have no opposition to a student simply getting the grade they earned. While we want all students to succeed, and will do just about anything we can think of to help make this happen, WE are just as frustrated with students who don't care as many of you are.

    Adminstrators likely feel differently, in part because of the enormous pressure put on by State and Federal officials to be a school where no student fails, as improbable as that might be.

    But even if students WERE allowed to fail when they've earned it, what do you propose to DO with these kids who fail? If this policy irritates you and causes you to make all kinds of disparaging remarks about teachers and public education (yet again), I don't suppose you'd be too interested in government programs to help these kids find the ability to support themselves. So what do we do with them?

    And when do the parents ever have to be held accountable for these kids?

  • BIlzac Jan 12, 2012

    There are good reasons on both sides of this issue, and it's not nearly as simplistic as some of you would like to make it.

    Keeping in mind that your answers have to be legally possible under the current conditions in the state and nation, I ask the following...

    If a student is lazy and irresponsible in the first nine weeks of a class and has a grade of under 20%, it is mathematically impossible for that student to pass the course. What would you like done with that student? (Actually the realistic number would be probably a grade of 45%, since even that grade would require work of 85% or better during the second nine weeks AND the final exam)

  • acsider Jan 12, 2012

    Why is this surprising to people? Johnston County has been doing this for over 3 years. It's not helping our students. It's teaching them to be irresponsible.

More...