The Dangers of Failing Grades (Published 2021) (2023)


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By Kate Taylor and Amelia Nierenberg

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This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in American education. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Today: A rash of failing grades could have long-term consequences for students, and the Supreme Court’s N.C.A.A. ruling could pave the way for more change to come.


The Dangers of Failing Grades (Published 2021) (3)

High school students at risk

Students across the country failed courses at alarming rates during the coronavirus pandemic. In Houston, about half of high school students got at least one F in the fall 2020 semester, compared with 35 percent the year before. In Dallas, five high schools had more than a quarter of students failing two or more courses this spring, up from just one school two years ago. And in Chicago, a recent story by WBEZ described teachers at high-poverty high schools agonizing about whether to fail students.

The increase in failing grades is one of the clearest signs of how the pandemic has affected students’ education. Experts are particularly concerned about the impact on high school students, who don’t have much time left in their academic careers to make up for learning losses.

“One year of bad grades can change the life trajectory of a high school student,” said Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research and advocacy group at the University of Washington Bothell.

“Just as important,” she added, “a failing grade means the student did not master the course content and will likely struggle for coming years without a lot of extra support.”

How to deal with failing grades during the pandemic has been a matter of debate. Boston Public Schools stopped tying marks to attendance, and some schools stopped giving F’s, issuing “incompletes” instead and offering students the opportunity to make up work.

Even so, the failure rate in core courses among Boston middle- and high school students ticked up.

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Experts worry that if schools don’t take major steps to re-engage struggling students, helping them make up credits and restoring their confidence, the surge this year in failing grades could lead many to drop out of school, or dim their chances of getting into a selective college.

Research has shown that getting one or two F’s in ninth grade significantly decreases a student’s chance of graduating.

More on America’s College Campuses

  • Art and the Law: A law school in Vermont wants to cover two murals depicting the brutality of slavery. But the artist is pushing back in court.
  • In Florida: Gov. Ron DeSantis’s planto transform New College of Florida into a beacon of conservatism has left students and faculty members at the tight-knit, progressive school reeling.
  • N.Y.U.’s NewPresident: Linda G. Mills, a professor and administrator at the university for more than 20 years, will be the first woman to head the institution.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Amid a boom in new tech tools, the University of Texas at Austin plans to offer a large-scale, low-cost online Master of Science degree programin artificial intelligence.

Ms. Lake said it was critical that districts give students the opportunity to retake classes or improve their grades this summer or next year.

Many people have blamed failure rates on the challenges of remote learning, but students most likely struggled during the pandemic for many reasons, among them financial stress and physical and mental health issues.

In Houston, for example, where schools reopened on Oct. 19 but 60 percent of students stayed remote, the high school students who remained online did somewhat better overall than the students who returned in person, according to district data (although that was not the case for students in grades 3-8).

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package included $129 billion for K-12 education, aimed at getting students back to school and making up the losses of the past year and a half. Districts now have to figure out how to use that aid to help high school students get back on track, and convince those whose confidence has faltered that they can succeed in school.


A victory for college athletes

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that the N.C.A.A. cannot ban relatively modest, education-related payments to student-athletes. Thanks in part to television rights deals, college sports generate huge revenues for universities and coaches, but not for the people who actually play the games.

“The N.C.A.A.’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a blistering opinion, characterizing the N.C.A.A.’s policy as a textbook case of price-fixing, antitrust behavior.

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Our colleague Billy Witz wrote in an analysis that the decision “provided a number of victories for those who argue that the billion-dollar industry should be dismantled.”

Online, college athletes rejoiced. “Another great step in the right direction!!!” Jordan Bohannon, a basketball player at the University of Iowa, wrote on Twitter. “#NotNCAAProperty.”

More change may soon come. The court’s logic signals that it might be open to a head-on challenge to the N.C.A.A.’s ban on allowing college athletes to earn money off their names, images and likenesses.

“To a certain extent, the Supreme Court ruling is a bit of a sideshow,” Alan Blinder, who covers college sports for The Times, told The Morning newsletter. “The real change that’s going to affect most athletes playing now is coming a week from Thursday.”

That’s when laws in at least six states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas — will go into effect, allowing players to do things like make endorsements or monetize their social media presences.

Around the country

College update

  • Some international students may need to quarantine or be revaccinated when they return to college.

  • Russia declared Bard College an “undesirable” organization, imperiling anyone in the country affiliated with the school.

  • Sang Ho Baek, a 20-year-old college baseball player at George Mason University, died from complications that followed a routine joint surgery.

  • Dartmouth is offering students a chance at cash to move off campus and ease demand for on-campus housing.

  • Students at Indiana University are suing the school over its Covid-19 vaccine requirement.

K-12 update

  • George Clooney and other celebrities are starting a public high school in Los Angeles to train teenagers for jobs in Hollywood.

  • The Education Department said that discrimination against transgender students was prohibited, threatening laws in at least 31 states.

  • Cicadas are giving some students hands-on experience with science after a tough year.

  • Our colleague Dana Goldstein profiled Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University. Her unwavering conviction during the pandemic that data proved schools were safe made her a hero to some and a lightning rod to others.

  • And Kate wrote about how the pandemic affected a third-grade class in Salem, Mass.

  • A good read from The Times: In an essay for Modern Love, a father worries that beloved children’s books give his daughter false promises about the natural world. “Will we have fewer snowy days going forward, and fewer ducklings to make way for?” he wonders.

  • And a good look: Check out these beautiful portraits of gay fathers.


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An ethics quandary, addressed

Questions about vaccine status are hard. It’s even harder in a power dynamic, like when an adult is interacting with students.

One person, who wrote in to The Times, runs a group at a college where only one student received a religious exemption from the vaccine. (The college otherwise requires a Covid-19 shot.)

Group meetings are vital, this person said, and Zoom is not a good substitute. But several people are not comfortable gathering with someone who is unvaccinated.

“How can we have group functions and not exclude an unvaccinated person?” they wondered.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, who writes about ethics for The Times, replied. The vaccinated majority do not need to make changes that pose a serious and otherwise unnecessary burden, he writes.

“People are free to refuse vaccination for religious reasons,” Kwame writes, “but they may have to deal with the consequence.”

And an unrelated piece of advice: If your kid is being bullied, it’s OK to acknowledge it.

“Start with something simple, like: ‘Did you hear what that kid said when we walked in? That was really mean,’” suggested Philip Galanes, who writes about thorny social situations for The Times.

“Then stop,” he continued, addressing a worried reader. “Your son will let you know, in words or body language, if he wants to discuss it.”

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What grade is in danger of failing? ›

C is anywhere between 70% and 79% D - this is still a passing grade, and it's between 59% and 69% F - this is a failing grade.

Why bad grades are a problem? ›

Grades force students to memorize those details necessary to pass a test, often disregarding true comprehension of the subject matter. In this process, the student's personal development is becoming a footnote, overshadowed by the imperative significance of grades.

What's wrong with the school grading system? ›

Limited: The grading system may not accurately reflect what a student is learning. There's no explanation for what got a student to the grade they achieved. Some may be learning more than others, but not able to apply their knowledge well to the task at hand.

Does failing a grade matter? ›

Failed classes count toward your GPA, though some colleges do not count pass/fail classes in your GPA calculation. If you get an F, you still have to pay for the class without receiving any credit toward your degree. What's more, failed classes don't count toward graduation requirements either.

How many times can you repeat a grade? ›

Repeating Coursework

A course may be repeated only once. Although only the second grade earned (for better or worse) will be computed into your GPA, both grades will remain on your transcript.

Is it OK to repeat a grade? ›

Ideally, no. Repeating a grade―also known as "grade retention" ―has not been shown to help children learn. Children won't outgrow learning and attention issues by repeating a grade. In fact, repeating a grade may contribute to long-term issues with low self-esteem, as well as emotional or social difficulties.

Do bad grades affect your future? ›

Your grades can help you plan for your future. In fact, you can use your GPA a lot like your GPS to determine where you are and where you are going. The more you know about your strengths and opportunities for improvement, the better you'll know where you need to apply yourself more.

Do grades matter in life? ›

Grades by no means define a student, but that doesn't mean they aren't very important. They can influence your class, college, scholarship, and career opportunities.

Does grades really matter? ›

High school grades matter most if you have hopes of going to college. The grade point average (GPA) is one factor that colleges may consider when deciding to accept or deny a student. If you want to continue to graduate or professional school, your college grades are even more important.

Why are grades unnecessary? ›

Grading is used to evaluate and provide feedback on student work. In this way, instructors communicate to students how they are performing in the course and where they need more help to achieve the course's goals.

Should grades be eliminated? ›

Ditching traditional letter grades reduces stress levels and competition among students, levels the playing field for less advantaged students, and encourages them to explore knowledge and take ownership of their own learning, Education Week reports.

Do grades have a positive or negative effect? ›

It seems reasonable to believe that earlier/previous grades have effects on student motivation for learning in that a history of high grades have positive influences whereas a history of low grades have negative influences on student motivation and learning.

How much will an F drop my GPA? ›

The failing grade will NOT calculate in your GPA, but it will still show on your transcript. On your transcript, an "E" will show to the right of your failing grade to mark the course as "Excluded". On your transcript, an "I" will show to the right of the second time you took the class, marking it as "Included".

Should I punish my kid for bad grades? ›

Should I set consequences for a bad grade? The short answer is: the consequences should be appropriate. Many parents threaten to take their child out of sports or extracurricular activities, but this isn't an effective solution.

Is it OK to fail in class? ›

Learning that it's ok to fail and that failure is a normal part of the learning process helps teach students important lessons about perseverance, determination, and effort.

What is grade forgiveness? ›

An increasingly common college academic policy, grade forgiveness (or sometimes called grade replacement) allows students who retake courses to replace the old grades with the new grades in GPA calculations.

When should you hold your child back a grade? ›

Why schools may recommend repeating a grade. When kids haven't built the academic skills needed for the next grade, the school may advise holding them back. The idea is that an extra year will help them catch up. But sometimes a child's academic struggles are just one factor that the school is considering.

Can you be 17 in 8th grade? ›

I'm 17 in eighth grade. Yea, I know, it's very embarrassing. Sometimes I cry about it because it really bothers me. The reason why I am in this position is because when I was young, I struggled in school, and my mother moved around multiple times.

Can a student fail a grade twice? ›

Is there a law or policy regarding the number of times a student can be retained? There is nothing in the EC that prohibits school districts from retaining a child in more than one grade. Some districts' PPR policies prohibit students from repeating more than one elementary grade.

What percentage of kids repeat a grade? ›

Who Gets Held Back, and Why? Most retentions occur in elementary school. Historically, roughly 5 percent of students in the first through the third grade repeated their grade, according to Child Trends.

What to do if your child fails a grade? ›

Work together to develop a plan to address failing grades. Discuss possible strategies to help them improve their grade, such as arranging for tutoring. If they're not able to pass the class, talk to the school about alternative options such as summer school or adult education classes.

Do people with bad grades succeed in life? ›

The reality is that grades just aren't that important. Sorry Valedictorians, your achievement doesn't mean much in the real world. Some of the most successful people in the world have gone on to have amazing careers in business and public life after having less than stellar runs in academia.

Is getting bad grades the end of the world? ›

This is simply not the case. One bad semester (or two) is not the end of the world. Instead, focus on the improvement you can show over time and how that will tell a much more accurate story of your resilience and determination.

Will one C ruin my GPA in high school? ›

While receiving a “C” will impact your GPA, it will certainly not ruin it. That “C” won't ruin your chances of getting into college either. However, how leniently colleges view the “C” will largely depend on what grade you received it in.

Are grades getting worse? ›

Failing grades are on the rise across the country — especially for students who are learning online.

Which grade matters the most? ›

The grades that typically matter most are those from your core academic courses. Sometimes, colleges may ignore the grades from your elective courses. Your GPA may muddle the results a bit too. A 4.0 GPA is excellent, but many colleges recalculate your GPA according to their own metrics.

Do schools really care about grades? ›

Most universities will consider your child's overall high school GPA, but will always consider their GPA and transcript together, meaning that an admissions officer will see if your child's grades have improved over time.

Do grades decide your future? ›

Each individual has different abilities, talents and strengths and grades should not be considered as a parameter to judge anyone. It is all about taking a decision that you feel will give you satisfaction in life.

Is a 70% a bad grade? ›

C is anywhere between 70% and 79% D - this is still a passing grade, and it's between 59% and 69% F - this is a failing grade.

Why do so many students get bad grades? ›

For many students, the problem of poor grades comes down to ineffective study habits. Whether it's waiting until the last minute to study or not properly understanding the material, poor study habits have a big impact on student performance.

Why are grades bad for mental health? ›

Research has shown that academic stress increases the chances of adolescents developing anxiety or depression. Students have to stay up late to do school work, and they end up doing worse the next day because of a lack of sleep. They become mentally and physically tired and risk their overall health to meet deadlines.

What grade do grades actually matter? ›

Most colleges will ask for the fourth year, but they typically use the grades from the first three years to determine admission. Arguably, the most critical year for grades is the 3rd year, or junior year, because these grades are the most recent and will give colleges the best picture of a student's abilities.

What grades are skipped the most? ›

Students most often skip only one grade. For example, you may choose for your child to skip first grade and go straight from kindergarten to second. It's also common for a child to skip second grade, moving from first into third. This single-year skipping keeps the student from feeling too distanced from their peers.

Why do grades stop at F? ›

Below that, they added in the dreaded F.” In the 1930s, as the letter-based grading system grew more and more popular, many schools began omitting E in fear that students and parents may misinterpret it as standing for “excellent.” Thus resulting in the A, B, C, D, and F grading system.

What effects do poor grades have on students? ›

Students who have lower grades are going to be less likely to seek out and gain access to more challenging coursework and other opportunities during their high school careers, such as Advanced Placement or IB programs. That's bound up with their attitudes about themselves.

How do grades affect behavior? ›

Grades, including evaluations by teachers, standardized test scores, and exam results, can affect student behavior for at least three reasons. First, grades give students feedback on how well they master a subject, and students may increase their effort if they do not understand the material as well as they thought.

How do grades affect stress? ›

A new study finds that when students experience an academic setback such as a bad grade, the amount of cortisol—the so-called stress hormone—in their bodies typically spikes. For most students it drops back down to normal levels a day later, but for some it stays high.

Can I get into law school with a 2.0 GPA? ›

So generally, if you're trying to get into the top schools, a GPA below 3.6 will be considered low. But to answer the question what GPA do you need to get into law school, any law school, then the answer is at least a 2.5. That is realistically the lowest GPA you can have to get into law school.

Will one D ruin my GPA in college? ›

As a rule of thumb, one bad grade won't tank your chances in most places, though a D might substantially lower your GPA because it's adding such a low number to the average.

How many A's do I need to raise my GPA? ›

Only grades above a C can raise your GPA to a 2.0- Every D requires a B and every F requires an A to achieve a 2.0 overall.

What grade is hardest for kids? ›

Are you aware that the transition from second to third grade is often considered to be one of the most difficult years in your child's education? Most educators are aware of this big leap, but many parents may not be.

Is it OK to let your child fail? ›

It's not OK to let kids fail if it could cause danger to their physical or emotional health. Avoid putting kids in situations where the odds are stacked against them. For example, if they haven't had a chance to prepare or if they don't have the same resources as others to succeed.

Should we let our kids fail? ›

Letting your child fail and showing them love in that failure's wake is one of the most affirming things a parent can do. It teaches a child that they're enough, outside of how they score or what they accomplish. And that's a much healthier place to approach “I'll do better next time” from.

What is the hardest class to fail? ›

It shouldn't surprise you that organic chemistry takes the No. 1 spot as the hardest college course. This course is often referred to as the “pre-med killer” because it actually has caused many pre-med majors to switch their major.

Do most people fail a class? ›

Failing a class in college is common. At The Ohio State University, around 10% of undergraduates retake a failed class every year. That means more than 1 in 10 undergrads fail a class (since not every student repeats a failed class).

What class do most students fail? ›

What class do most students fail? College algebra is the most failed course with about half of all students not getting credit for the course with a grade of a D, F, incomplete, or withdrawing. The challenges of learning algebra aren't unique to college. Algebra is also one of the most failed courses in high school.

What are the danger grades? ›

It consists of five levels, from least to highest amount of danger: 1 – Low, 2 – Moderate, 3 – Considerable, 4 – High, 5 – Extreme.

How bad is Grade 4? ›

GRADE 4 (Potentially life threatening)

Extreme limitation to daily activity, significant assistance required; significant medical intervention/therapy, hospitalisation or hospice care very likely.

Is grade 7 the worst? ›

It is known to be the most challenging grade in middle school-but everyone gets through it. In order to succeed, it is crucial to pay close attention in class and take good notes. Studying hard is also very important in order to do well in grade seven.

Can you get held back in 9th grade? ›

In the United States, grade retention can be used in kindergarten through to twelfth grade; however, students in grades seven through twelve are usually only retained in the specific failed subject due to each subject having its own specific classroom rather than staying in one classroom with all subjects taught for ...

What does C stand for in grades? ›

Letter Grades. A+, A, A- indicates excellent performance. B+, B, B- indicates good performance. C+, C, C- indicates satisfactory performance. D+, D, D- indicates less than satisfactory performance.

How low is an F grade? ›

An F letter grade is equivalent to a 0.0 GPA, or Grade Point Average, on a 4.0 GPA scale, and a percentage grade of 65 or below.

What does F stand for in grades? ›

The following definitions will be used as a guide for the assignment of All Courses grades. F – Failed, Unacceptable Level of Achievement.

Is 55 a bad grade? ›

The normal grading range is from 55 to 100. The number grades correspond to letter grades as reflected in the chart below. The minimum passing grade is 70 (C). Any grades between 55 and 69 (D and F) are considered failing grades for which unit credit is not earned.

Is Grade 9 good? ›

9 to 1 grading

The way GCSEs are graded changed in 2017. They're graded using 9 to 1, rather than A* to G. Grade 9 is the highest grade.

What is the lowest acceptable grade? ›

At most schools, a D is the lowest passing grade. That means students who earn a D or higher receive credit for the course. However, some schools set special policies around D grades. For example, at Lehigh, a D counts as a passing grade but does not meet prerequisite requirements.

What is the hardest year of school? ›

While each year of high school will have its own stressors, many will say junior year is the most challenging. Junior year can be the hardest for several reasons, but with the right prep and expectations, high school students can make the hardest year just a little easier.

What's the hardest grade to teach? ›

Standardized Testing May Cause Grades 3 and Up to Be the Hardest Elementary Grades to Teach. Many educators argue that the hardest elementary grade to teach is one with standardized testing pressures.

What is the easiest year of high school? ›

Going into high school, many students hear that freshman year is the “easiest” year. Some think that colleges don't consider it as much as they do one's sophomore, junior, and senior years. While this is typically true, it doesn't mean that students should entirely dismiss the importance of their freshman year.

How many F's does it take to fail 8th grade? ›

No more than TWO (2) F's on the final report card for the entire 8th grade year.

What grade do most students get held back? ›

Who Gets Held Back, and Why? Most retentions occur in elementary school. Historically, roughly 5 percent of students in the first through the third grade repeated their grade, according to Child Trends.

Should I let my child fail high school? ›

It's not OK to let kids fail if it could cause danger to their physical or emotional health. Avoid putting kids in situations where the odds are stacked against them. For example, if they haven't had a chance to prepare or if they don't have the same resources as others to succeed.


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