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F+ for Iowa's education system

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 14, 2012 6:30 AM

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One thing the state of Iowa has been proud of is the high-quality education students receive from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Postsecondary education that the state offers at all of its Board of Regents' schools is not lacking either. What can we say? Iowa is a state full of smarties.

However, in a 2011 CNN "Money" report, Iowa didn't even make the top 10. In fact, over the last 13 years, enrollment in Iowa public schools has been steadily declining, and in some districts, the standards have been declining as well.

An unacceptable grading scale has been invented, including a  F+ — the grade students get when they answer at least 12.75 percent of the questions correctly. The students who receive this grade are promptly rewarded 0.5 on a 4.0 scale — which is passing.

These students are losing valuable life skills when they are taught that their teachers are subpar for not accepting late work. If you go to a job and don't do work on your boss's schedule, you better be prepared to get fired.

A near perfect example of fallen standards is in the guidelines of the Council Bluffs School District, one of the largest districts in the state. In fact, according to the district's grading manual, student who do not attempt a "major assignment," which includes tests, projects, papers, etc., are given the opportunity to redo the assignment until 10 days before the trimester. The pressure is put on the teacher saying that "high-performing teachers will allow assignments to be redone … for full credit."

If students decide not to hand in an assignment and it is considered a "major" assignment, they may have as much time as they need to hand it in whenever they like.

Imagine that — the ability to put off giving that oral presentation on The Brother's Karamozov for another year. It seems pretty perfect for a high-school student with raging hormones. Might as well skip that deadline — that sports team is playing that sporting event.  

When more than 80 percent of students believe they will attend college, but they have been trained that late assignments are acceptable, a poor test can be readily retaken, and attendance is completely optional, they are going to be shocked by the reality that college presents. The rationale is simply that "not accepting late work tells students that completing the work is unimportant….high performing teachers allow students to redo assessments for full credit," according to the CBCSD 2011-2012 Grading Manual.

This is just flawed logic. Deadlines are important in all jobs and in college. If you don't study for your exams in college, don't expect a retake, expect a poor grade and academic probation. That's how they do it in the big leagues, kids. Time to get prepared.  

At the University of Iowa, it is understood that students have to live up to expectations. Depending on one's major, students are expected to maintain at least a 2.0 GPA, which does not mean that you are getting 50 percent of your class work done; rather, it means you are getting 70 percent of classwork completed and have a C average.

But it's also a higher failure on the part of Iowa's school districts. When the authority looks you in the eyes and tells you so blatantly, "It's OK to be a failure; you'll sit get by," students have reasonable expectations of failure in mind. We shouldn't talk about the minimum grade a person can get to scrape by, we should encourage students to excel beyond any number system. Numbers and letters don't define a person, but the ability to work hard and appreciate the things you've done define more than just your most formative years, but your success in life as well.  

Grading scales designed to cheat the system cheat both the teachers and the students out of a successful and worthwhile chance at future success. These students are in for a real shock whether they go to college or enter the workforce.

Being smart means we have high standards, not artificially high scores. We want a smart state with smart kids, so improve the education, don't just look for an easy way out.


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