Thursday, October 1, 2009

What Does an "F" Grade Mean?

Grades are always such a touchy subject. Some parents insist on "A's"while others are just happy their child passed with a "D-." I can remember getting a "C" in my high school American History class when I should have had a "B." I can also remember getting a "C" in a college math class when I should have had a "D-" or an "F."

There are so many elements that go into a grade that the grade does not necessarily reflect what the student actually knows about the subject. Below are some of the reasons:

1. Teachers grade differently. Some may use averages, while others grade on points or percentages or weighted averages. Some do grades by hand, while others use computers. Some grade only on tests or research papers, while others grade on everything including class participation.

2. Different teachers use different grading scales. An 85% for one teacher may result in an "A" grade, but may constitute a "B" or "C" for another teacher. The same teacher may use different scales for different classes. An 85% in an honors class may give a "C," while an 85% in a remedial class may result in an "A."

3. While attendance does not directly go into a student's grade, it can have an effect. If a student isn't in class, he or she may not learn the lessons or get the proper notes. The student may miss quizzes or tests or handouts. The student may get behind on assignments and, if not turned in on time, can earn lower scores on those assignments.

4. Behavior also does not directly affect a student's grade. However, a student who disrupts class is not concentrating on the subject material (and neither can his or her classmates). If a student is sent out of class, often he or she misses work that cannot be made up. If a student is suspended, he or she may be required to make up the missed work, but the teacher may not be required to score it. Also, if the student's grade is borderline, say it's in between a "D" and an "F," the teacher may be more inclined to issue the "F" grade if the student's behavior or attitude has been questionable.

5. Just because a student gets an "F" doesn't mean they don't know anything about the subject. Usually a grade of "F" represents percentages from 0% to 60%. That's a really big range. Rarely does a student get 0%. In my experience, most "F" grades were from students who scored in the 40% to 50% range. Those above 50% usually worked hard and improved their scores before grades came out. Those below 40% often gave up and their scores continued to plummet. Scores in that 40% to 50% range mean the student does know something about the subject, but not enough to be considered proficient. An "F" grade may also just mean that the student didn't turn in their homework or make up tests they missed.

Since it is midterm in many school districts, parents have been or are currently being notified of their children's grades. My advice for parents is to find out how each teacher grades. Often times grading procedures are posted on a website or can be given to you in the form of a handout. With this knowledge, parents can look at their student's scores, compare them to the teacher's grading procedures and grading scale, and chart the best course for success in a class.

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