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Standards Based Grading,

Rethinking the “F”

What does failure mean? In the education world, it means limiting the potential for greatness.

Where does the “F” fit into your grading system? Mark Kevesdy takes us beyond the stigma, to explore the functionality of failure.

Most traditional grading scales justify less than a 60% as failure. The one symbolic representation used to define this failure is the letter “F.” What does failure mean? In the education world, it means limiting the potential for greatness. Failure, in and of itself, is not a bad thing to experience. Some attribute failure in the real world towards making progress. Thomas Watson, who lead IBM for more than 40 years said, "If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” Now think about that for a moment. One could not expect one of the most successful businesses in American history to promote failure as its reason for success. As educators, we can infer how this translates to the educational experience. Successful students learn to overcome disappointment and work to improve performance until they reach mastery. This may be true for a very small percentage of students. But for the vast majority, failure is the opposite of success and too many failures quickly turns to diminished hope.

I think what Thomas Watson truly promoted was creativity. Failure can spur on creativity if it is done in the context of continuous improvement. High achieving schools promote getting the job done at all cost. Students are expected to complete assignments and time is given for students to complete the assignment to a minimum standard of excellence. Resilience is the lesson learned from working on the assignment until it is done to the minimum expectation set for excellence. Failure is not an option in high performing schools. High performing schools expect their students to get the job done and refuse to accept anything less than the stated expectation for achievement. I think having students redo, rethink, rework, and retake any assignment that is measuring learning and is “averaged” in as a grade is a must for creativity and persistence to be the hallmark of the educational experience. “How can I improve the product?” is a question all employers are thrilled to hear from their employees. Does this not hold true for students as well?


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