Opinion: Banning 'D' Grades Puts Undue Pressure on Students

Filed under: Opinions, Education: Teens

D grade banned from schools

Isn't high school stressful enough? Credit: Getty Images


In the Mount Olive, N.J. school district, "D" is defunct -- banned on report cards. Now, students who receive less than a grade of C automatically fail.

Mount Olive school district superintendent Larrie Reynolds says "D's are simply not useful in society ... No one wants to hire a D-anything, so why would we have D-students and give them credit for it?," according to an article in The New York Times.

Taken at face value, I can definitely see the point. I hate flying, for example, and panic at the thought of a low-achieving, D-level pilot trying to keep my plane aloft. And the unsavory image of a filthy, rat-infested kitchen is more than enough to keep me out of a low-ranking, D-rated restaurant.

But wait -- is this what we're really talking about here? Would a D in Humanities mean that my pilot couldn't find his way to London? If the chef at my favorite bistro got a D in French, would that mean he couldn't plate a boeuf bourguignon?

Sure, I want my kids to succeed in school -- but I know, from personal experience, that academic success does not come as easily to some kids as it does to others.

My son, 14, is now a high school freshman and has been a high-achieving A-level student since the day he walked into his first preschool classroom. He's extremely driven and completely self-motivated, to the point where I often worry about his tireless quest for perfection.

My 18-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is entering her sophomore year of college with a grade-point average that's slightly higher than a B, but that wasn't always the case. Though her elementary school grades could stand toe-to-toe with her brother's grades, she struggled through middle and high school. Always an amazingly creative writer and avid reader, she started to fall behind in math, science and foreign language around 6th grade, and flirted with disastrous grades more than a few times over the next several years.

Does my daughter work as hard on her studies as my son does? I believe she works harder -- because she has to.

Through middle and high school, I studied with her; hired tutors for her; made sure she did her work; and challenged her to do better with positive reinforcement. I also watched how other parents around me rewarded their kids for good grades; one parent even went so far as to pay his son in cash for A's and B's on his report card (A's were worth more, of course) -- while deducting cash from his payout for anything below a B.

But my watershed moment came when I saw the dejected look on my daughter's face after I told her how disappointed I was that she wouldn't be taking advanced placement courses. It was then that I finally realized that she was doing her best, and that she simply might not be an A student. Period.

The Mount Olive school district is developing a support system to help students meet the tougher grading standards, according to The Times, including a "watch list" for those who continue to fail, extra-help classes and tutoring from other students. It has also created an optional evening school, known as "Sunset Academy," that will charge a fee of $150 per failed class that needs to be made up.

All of the parents and teachers quoted in the article support the no-D policy, as do all but one of the students interviewed by the Times. I can't say I'm surprised. We have created a world where our kids are over-scheduled from the time they're toddlers and face, quantifiably, the fiercest competition ever for precious Ivy League school slots.

We have also created a world where schools and school districts with high-scoring students receive more funding, and more accomplished and dedicated teachers, than those where students struggle.

Sure, there will always be Spicoli-type slackers and stoners who do just enough to skate by. But for every one of those purposeful underachievers, there are kids who are truly doing their best. Kids who have after-school jobs or take care of younger siblings. Kids whose parents simply don't have the resources to send them to expensive tutoring centers. Kids who will be successful novelists even if they get a D in math, or revolutionize physics even if they're thought to be slow language learners.

I could easily fall back on the lists of millionaires and celebrities who made good without a high school or college diploma, but I don't think that's the issue. I want my kids to stay in school. I want them to go for an advanced degree or even two, if that's what they want. But most of all, I want them to find balance in their lives, to be happy and healthy, and to take their eyes off the destination long enough to enjoy the journey along the way.

Related: Jobs Bill to Stop Teacher Layoffs Nears Approval

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.