High School “Success” Policies

I know this isn’t about Web 2.0 or social media in particular, but it is an education topic that has been on my mind lately, especially with the increasing fervor of debate surrounding standardized testing in Texas — no joke!

Why can’t we trust expert teachers, who know their subject matter, to provide valid feedback about student performance? LET THE TEACHER TEACH! Why can’t we just look at the percentage of students who pass a given high school course? Well, those numbers likely are skewed to the Nth degree, in part because some schools don’t allow teachers to assign zeros for work that is never completed, and in part because of different extra credit policies.

I currently have two children in two different high schools. My work colleagues also have high schoolers in the same district — between us, we cover about 5 institutions.

Here is the policy at both of my kids’ schools, as enforced:

Late work is not accepted after three days; after this time a zero will be recorded. Retakes of tests and quizzes must be completed within a few days and are allowed only if the original score was below 70%. The the maximum score on a retake is 70%. No retakes are allowed on any assignments given during the 6th week of any six weeks marking period.

A student who earns a 64% on her biology test, for example, can retake it and get a 94%, but only a 70%, or a D-, will be recorded officially.

Now here’s the policy at two other high schools in the exact same school district:

Late work is accepted up to the end of the six weeks, sometimes the whole semester. Retakes of tests and quizzes are allowed, sometimes encouraged, regardless of the student’s original score.

A student who makes a 64% on a biology test in these schools can retake it, get a 94%, and have an A in the grade book.

Same class. Same original performance. Same retest performance. One child gets a D-, and the other gets an A.

Often these high school policies fall under the mantra of “increasing student success.” I’m all for giving students additional opportunities, especially in the interest of content mastery and improved understanding, but shouldn’t they be more uniform across a district? Calvin’s straight-A average may be the result of effortless, high achievement in every class over four years, while the same GPA from Jessica means she retook everything multiple times until she earned a 4.0. Sometimes it means that kids like the one pictured below can sleep through class, flunk a test, and then retake a very similar exam to squeak out a passing grade (or just pass by virtue of in-class participation and worksheets).

Don’t get me wrong — I would probably rather have Jessica in my college courses than Calvin, because she knows how to work for her grades! Many Jessicas quickly will adapt to university policy, visit the Writing Center, come to office hours to workshop essay drafts, and so on. Some Jessicas will be bewildered, however, at the vast gap between their high school and college experiences. They may become frustrated, resentful, or insecure about their talents. They may drop out.

This is a long way of saying that I question the retake and extra credit “success policies” at my area high schools. They can inflate students’ grades so those numbers are not indicative of knowledge but rather effort…and I believe what legislators are looking for is knowledge.

Here’s a great story, from the college perspective, about creating productive extra credit policies that ensure individualized learning:


If a goal of high school is to prepare students for college (and the workplace, which doesn’t offer many second chances, either), extra credit needs to push students.


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