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Good morning Grade Doctor. I am wondering if you could give me
your thoughts on the "No fail policy" that is found in some school
districts across Canada and perhaps some supporting evidence for
why you feel that way.

Much Appreciated!
Thank you :)



Having been inappropriately labelled as "the godfather of no-fail policies" by a columnist in
the Grope and Flail I am happy to answer your question. There is no such thing as "no-fail
policies;" it is merely a label that has been attached to progressive grading policies by
critics who want schools to continue to grade as they did fifty years ago. These critics don't
understand the difference between compliance and responsibility and they don't
understand, or choose to ignore, modern psychological research about motivation. They
also make inappropriate and inaccurate comparisons between the "real world" and what
happens in schools. The most serious error that these critics make is that they reveal they
don't understand grade 5 math where students learn about measures of central tendency,
equal difference and ratio.


Jennifer 's


While there are no written 'no fail policies' school boards in Canada acknowledge that they
do not allow teachers to give students zeros for missed assignments or tests, and in some
cases do not allow teachers to penalize students for plagiarism or cheating on exams, and
in a few other provinces students are not allowed to fail a grade or be held back. Do you
think that is an appropriate way to grade students by pushing them through at all costs? It
seems to me that students who actually attempt to do the work and receive a lower grade
would have been better off to not do the work at all. Shouldn't a students behavior be
taken into consideration? IE if the student knows he/she cannot fail then why do the work?
Kids in high school have better things to do such as skip out on school and go shopping
and the like. Doesn't that teach our children to be irresponsible? How are teachers
supposed to decided whether the student actually needs help with the material or if they
just couldn't be bothered to do it? It seems that it would actually make it harder for the
teacher to grade a student.

The Grade Doctor's


You totally misstate the reasons for not using zeros and for not using mark penalties for academic dishonesty. It is not to make it easy for students to pass (or not fail); it is so the consequences for not doing 'work' or doing 'work' poorly or not being academically honest are appropriate when the primary purpose of grades is to accurately communicate achievement. I don't intend to insult you but you obviously have limited understanding of the issues involved so before we continue this discussion I suggest you read Rick Wormeli's "Fair Isn't Equal,' Tom Guskey's "On the Mark," or Fixes 2, 4 and 14 in my "Repair Kit."

Jennifer 's


Regardless if I misstate them or not that is how they are being used so it is of no insult to
me. Books do not equal the real world and unfortunately in the real world no fail policies
are pushing students through at all costs and firing or penalizing teachers who do not
follow this policy.

The Grade Doctor's


Jennifer, what do you mean by "no-fail policies" in your last post over which you say teachers are being fired? No zeros and not using mark penalties for late work or academic dishonesty are NOT no-fail policies. They are policies to make grades accurate by following the mathematical principles that are taught in our schools, and to make grades about achievement only so that they have real meaning. Having said that I agree that not allowing students to fail when their academic achievement (not their behaviours) is insufficient, or they have not provided sufficient evidence of their academic achievement are inappropriate. It is also wrong to have credit recovery programs where the achievement required is not equal to that required in the original course.