Nobody Fails

Not this semester. Not unless they really want to.

My thoughts on assessment are central to my identity as a teacher and I ken strongly to the idea that a student’s final grade should reflect her final understanding of a subject. I have an infrastructure in place to ensure that a student who couldn’t solve proportions at the start of the year, but who positively enslaved proportions by the end, is given the same credit as the kid who enslaved them from the get-go.

I might be all talk.

The real challenge to my convictions is a student’s first semester grade, which, it occurred to me this year, is as arbitrary a termination point as any of the others I’ve rejected. I don’t really have a justification for finalizing grades there, except for That’s How It’s Done.

So I gave out somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 Incompletes instead of F’s this semester. I was working up some sort of contract — something generous in spirit between me, the student, and her parents — when Todd Seal’s latest post dropped in my reader. I’ve been beaten to this punch, but at least he made my contract drafting a helluva lot easier. Thanks, brah.

I’m putting an expiration window of one month on this offer. This makes the second semester a little more onerous than I’d like, remediating for two now, but it’s the only way I can do right by this one particular conviction.

Perhaps also, if I tell myself going into the first semester that nobody will fail, that, essentially, it comes down to Tutor Now vs. Tutor Later, maybe I’ll be more inclined to Tutor Now, When It Counts.

Caveats and credits:

  1. This only works because I have my content area specifically compartmentalized. The contract will detail exactly which of the first semester’s fourteen concepts the student failed. They only have to pass those concepts to earn the grade bump. If your gradebook has entries like “Test #7” or “Chapter 6 Test,” I’m not sure how this process would be anything but painful. (I’m pleasantly surprised — given our disagreements in the past — that Todd has pursued this tack at all, much less made it work so well for English.)
  2. Robert Brewer first got me hooked on this policy. When we taught together in Sacramento, he threw down the same offer for every Algebra 1 student in our school of 2,400. Other math teachers pitched in on the remediation, but the whole process was as hard on him as you’d probably imagine.
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.