Grading Floors: How low can you go?

Growing up, my father used to tell me not to come to him with a problem unless I had a solution.  As a teenager, that seemed like the best thing since sliced bread, since I knew I already knew it all. Yet, as time went by and my problems increased, I often found out the solutions often involved my father and his money and he wasn’t too keen on spending it.

I also realized that not approaching him until I had a solution to the problems that existed in my life meant that I had to go through a process of weighing the pros and cons, understanding what I was able to do, what I wasn’t and who I needed help from in order to make things happen.

I sometimes wish decision makers and influencers in Memphis had a father like mine.

Because more often than not, it seems we are talking about the problems void of a solution – or even the possible solutions to vet.

The current issue in Memphis and Shelby County Schools is the “grading floor.” (Click here to read more about it).

If you’ve read my previous blog, you know it’s difficult for me to separate me as an educator, parent and advocate.  The passion that exists within me for the betterment of all children is present because of my passion as a mother and the opportunities I need her to have as she matriculates through school.

The issue or presence of the grading floor is not new, not to educators/teachers in Memphis at least. It’s something that I’m sure existed before I came years ago.

Coming from Chicago, teaching in Englewood, there wasn’t much that surprised me and honestly, I completely understood.  Grading floors exists in a school (or district) that has a disproportionate number so students who are “failing.” I came here to teach at a bottom 5% school, so I knew what I signed up for.

More often than not, I have encountered students who are not failing but have been failed by a school, teacher, leader and/or system that did not adequately prepare them for the next grade. It’s not their fault. We must change the way we look at things in order for things to change.

I have taught and still teach students who are at least two grade levels behind. This was true when I taught 4th grade and when I taught 6th grade. Honestly, as the grade level increased, so did the gap. As the years went by and the proficiency gap increases, their confidence decreases. With a lowered confidence and self-esteem comes a lower level of self-efficacy.

In completing my Master’s research, I studied the correlation of reading comprehension scores with the intentional inclusion of motivational/inspirational curriculum.  There was, as you guessed it, an increase in reading scores for students who received this additional curriculum over a 10 week period. Thus, I understand the argument for the grading floor.

We must change the way we look at things in order for things to change.

In the process of having problems and solutions, there exists a myriad of questions:

  • Does it matter if a student has a F that is a 65% or a 14%?
  • Do we exacerbate the notion of a “failing” student with a lower percentage?
  • Do we implement a grading floor to accommodate the years of a “failing” teacher, “failing” school or “failing” society?
  • Is a percentage of 14% helpful for the student that gives 100% in effort?
  • What other means of communicating student proficiency and achievement levels are present to present truth in grading?

Truth in Grading

That seems to be quite an anomaly here and please understand I speak from my own experience.

Without a grading floor, ALL of my current students would be below a 65% or 50%. That didn’t happen just this year, but in the last 5+ years of their formal education. It is not my job, as their teacher, to eradicate their confidence, stifle their effort and diminish their confidence by giving them “true” F’s.  Whether it’s a 65% or a 14%, it’s still an F – which signals to them “failure”.

Can you imagine seeing the face of a 5th grade boy who tried his hardest on your test, who answered all the questions you gave orally, who made connections to the text through auditory comprehension, only to receive a 0% on his paper when you returned it?

I don’t have to imagine – I see it multiple times a day.  

The balled up graded papers are indicative of the frustrations of my students, who cry when they see them, but open their ears to my words when I talk to them about it during conferences.

“This is not an indication of your hard work, son. Yet, the reality is, we have to work harder. We have to grind in order to make up what we’ve missed and I’m the best coach you have this year”.

I speak life into my students, who see F’s far too often in their daily lives.

In education, there are no absolutes, so I don’t propose implementing a grading floor across the board, but I do understand its purpose.  If it is implemented, it must, however, be coupled with data and other reports that provide parents, teachers and other stakeholders with information that accurately highlights where a student is, both within the district and nationally. When parents are provided with this information, they are not seeing their child through rose-colored glasses or slapped by reality when the options for their child is limited during, before and after high-school.

Truth in grading holds everyone accountable – teachers, students, parents, school, leaders and influencers. There can be no change until what needs to change is adequately illuminated.

I agree with Superintendent Hopson who stated, “With a zero, it’s impossible to pass a course. It creates kids who don’t have hope, disciplinary issues; that creates a really bad scenario.”

Without hope, effort and attainment are impossible. If we can’t give hope to our kids, what are we here for?  I don’t have all the answers, but in the spirit of my father, don’t come with a problem unless you have a solution.