Year: 1996-1997
Month: January
Leader: Group I

Situation/Case Study:

A few students in a beginning algebra class are on the line to fail the course. As per school policy, they and their parents were notified at midterm that they were in danger of failing the course. Course grades have been posted weekly since that point and students have had a clear indication of how they are doing. Parents have not been sent further notification or contacted. The teacher is now at the point of grading and questioning whether it is more appropriate to fail the students as their gradebook scores call for or pass them with a D-. The teacher wonders whether he made sufficient efforts to involve the parents in this situation, even though he followed school policy. The teacher also wonders what is in the best interest of these students since they don't plan to take any more math, and a failing grade would mean they wouldn't get the necessary graduation credit without taking this course, or its equivalent, again.

A teacher in this situation might feel anxious because he doesn’t feel he kept parents well enough informed about student lack of progress. A teacher might feel concerned because he isn’t sure what the kids need the most. A teacher might feel anxious because the parents might be angry and hold him at fault. A teacher might feel justified and confident because he did his job by sending out the mid-term notices and posting grades weekly. A teacher might feel guilty and haunted because failing someone feels like a personal failure as a teacher. A teacher might feel fearful because failing students could be deemed a mark against him and evidence that he isn’t a good teacher. The teacher identified hypotheses one, two, and four as making most sense in terms of his own situation.

Theories behind practice:
Clear communication regarding consequences justifies enforcing them. In this situation, parents’ responsibility is to follow-up on notification of a low grade. In this situation, kids have responsibility to check on their grades and do something about them when they are low. Teachers should know how to teach everyone and make sure they succeed.

Impact on others:
Students in this situation might feel worried, defeated, frustrated because they don’t “get it”, the failing grade is proof of their inability, and their parents will be mad. Students feel indifferent because they don’t really care about the course and haven’t been giving it good effort.

Go with the system: You sent out the forms as required; you did more than required by keeping students informed of their grades on a weekly basis. Now, because they haven’t remedied the situation, you should fail them. Go with the individual kids: If they put out effort and just can’t do anymore, give them the D- and let them move on. Fail them regardless of the effort they put out because evaluation becomes too muddy when perceived ability of student is factored in. Before grading, talk with the students to determine whether or not they care if they fail. If they don’t care, you can feel more justified in the failing grade you assign. Fail them as indicated by their performance. Then when the parents call, involve the students in the conversation to make it clear that the students had been adequately informed that they were in danger of failing.