Wednesday, June 3, 2009

To Pass or Not to Pass, That is the Question

It's a bright sunny afternoon in Streeterville with a crisp feel of autumn in the air. There is a brisk 20 mile per hour wind blowing in from the northeast that speaks of winter to come and is creating white caps on the lake and big crashing waves at Oak Street Beach. It's 56 degrees at the Mini and it's the kind of day that makes one think of football games, warm sweaters, and fireplaces. The trouble is that it's June 3rd and the Oak Street Beachstro has already put out the imported palm trees for summer. The lifeguards on duty are freezing their butts off out there. Looks lovely from this side of the window on the 14th floor. Feels downright cold out there, especially when that Northeast wind hits you in the face. Welcome to "The Summer That Forgot to Be."

I finished reviewing kids for finals today. The testing begins tomorrow. It's always amazing to see kids who never study, or worry about grades all year long, and then one or two days before their finals begin they suddenly become worried about their grades. Some of these kids have 35% averages and an A on the final is not going to make a big difference in their overall average. Still, you have to encourage them, and frankly most of them will continue their year-long pattern of making abysmal grades on tests.

This brings up an interesting dilemma in teacher-land. Occasionally there is a student who has 35 absences and an overall average of 35% who comes in and scores a 95% on the final exam. Clearly they have managed to master the major concepts necessary for passing the course. That's what final exams are supposed to measure. Yet they have come up way short on the day to day stuff that the other kids have diligently performed. Some of those diligent kids trudging through it all still manage to have only 55% averages in a world that recognizes 60% as a bare bottom D and therefore passing.

So what do you do? Do you pass the kid who obviously has other issues, but does know the material, as proven on the exam? Do you fail the kid who showed up day after day and did everything you asked of him or her? In a world where only numbers matter, both would fail. They both come up short in the overall average department. In a world where teachers care about kids, sometimes both will pass, the one because they obviously know the material and need to be encouraged to achieve, the other because they are always likely to come up short, but doggone it they are trying as hard as they can, and they need to be encouraged to keep trying, too.

Reality is that teachers take every kid on a case by case basis, and make judgements on the merits of that case. It is not a science. It is an art, and don't let any tell you different. Some kids with the 95% test score and the overall failing average will fail. Some will not. There are a lot of variables to consider. Some kids with a 55% average and a 95% attendance and compliance average will pass, some will not. There are a lot of variables to consider, once again. Some kids deserve to pass. Some kids need the kick in the seat of the pants that an F gives them.

As teachers, a great many of us hate this time of year. We spend hour upon hour agonizing over what we are doing to a child's life. We spend hour upon hour agonizing over whether to pass a kid or fail them, and then agonizing over whether we really did the right thing. It's a part of the process. You worry about it, but then a kid 5 years after graduation comes to visit you and apologizes for being an idiot in your class, thanks you for being the hard guy with them, and you realize that you really do affect the lives of these kids for the better. It makes it worth the struggle.

Tomorrow the agony begins for the students. Exams begin. Friday afternoon, after all the exams are completed the agony of the teachers begins. Papers to grade. Grades to be averaged. Judgements to be made. Discussions and conferences with colleagues and administrators to be held. Then it's suddenly over and it's summer. Everybody breathes a sigh of relief and goes to enjoy the warmth.

1 comment:

  1. a crisp feel of autumn in the air

    I thought the same thing yesterday! I stepped out for something, felt that wind, the chill and caught myself wondering when the leaves were going to start changing!

    Good luck with exams and may summer return by the time they're finished!