Minimum F Grading Fails Students and Society

This so-called equitable grading policy has good intentions, but terrible results

School boards and administrators brag about implementing rigorous academic standards and having high student expectations; however, by replacing the Traditional “A” through “F” Grading System with the 50% Minimum F System, they have lowered standards and expectations.

How Does Minimum F grading work?

There are no longer zero grades or any grade under 50% – EVER. If you refuse to complete an assignment or blow it off entirely, you get 50%. If you plagiarize an essay, you get 50%. If you fail an exam or refuse to even take it, you still get 50%. Instead of the “F” range being from zero to 59%, the new “F” begins at 50%.

Why adopt a 50% Minimum F grading system?

The rationale behind 50% Minimum F Grading is to provide hope to students who fall behind at the beginning of the semester due to academic weakness or lack of motivation. If a student ends 1st Quarter with a 30%, they would need 90% for the 2nd Quarter to earn a passing 60% “D” for the semester. Conversely, with the 50% Minimum F, that same student would only need to earn 70% during 2nd quarter to pass the class with a 60% “D” grade. It provides hope and opportunity to failing students.

Most schools and districts adopting this system also support summative assessment (exams) over formative assessment (classwork, homework, group activities, etc.); the ratio is often 75% summative to 25% formative. Deadlines are fluid, since students are not penalized for late work. Students are allowed to retake tests as often as needed until they achieve their desired grade. Teachers are expected to have multiple versions of every exam on hand for retakes. This incentivizes some kids to ignore the classwork that prepares them for exams and to just keep retaking the exam until they pass. At the end of the grading period, many students are pulling all-nighters to catch up on assignments and are overloading their already overworked teachers with stacks of papers to grade on the last day of the term.

What is the problem with a 50% Minimum F grading system?

Providing students with a 50% grade – whether or not they complete any work – destroys motivation and promotes non-compliance. It establishes a flawed mindset wherein society will give you a “pass” and reward you for doing next to nothing. Instead of demonstrating that you have mastered 60% of the required content, students only need to master 10% of the content – the difference between 50% and 60%.

The 50% Minimum F Grading System destroys the incentive to attempt genuine academic work or engage in active learning. It does not prepare students for the real world where working adults are held accountable for the entirety of their job performance, not just 50%. Savvy students figure out how to work the system by completing the minimum number of assignments in order to pass with a “D” grade (60%).

Proponents justify this system noting that many students from troubled homes lack academic support and their difficult living situations distract them from completing assignments. They claim that one bad night – wherein an assignment was not completed – could ruin the student’s overall grade if a zero was factored in. They argue that a few bad decisions should not discourage a student to the point of dropping out of school because their academic situation seemed hopeless.

This line of thinking is flawed. It is predicated on the assumption that teachers are out to punish students for the smallest infraction. Every teacher I have ever known was empathetic to student needs and willingly made accommodations for students when there was a situation at home. Teachers want their students to achieve and succeed. If a single zero is going to ruin a student’s grade, then the teacher has not provided enough opportunities for students. Attempting to rectify some students’ unfortunate home lives by diminishing expectations across the board causes more harm to individuals and society than it helps.

My experience with the 50% Minimum F grading system

I spent the last two years of my teaching career at the largest Title I school in Nevada. It had an ingrained culture of apathy where 50% of the students in average-level classes (not Honors or Advanced Placement) were unengaged. About 10% of these students were so unmotivated that nothing would inspire them to complete any work or even seek graduation. There was status attached to not doing assignments and refusing to participate in class activities. Even with the 50% Minimum F Policy, many students choose to fail anyway. Students who excelled were mocked. It created a climate of failure!

We are failing our students by not allowing them to fail

School administrators at the district and site (school) levels claim to promote academic rigor and high student expectations. Standard 1: Indicator 3 (Teacher Professional Responsibilities Standards and Indicators) on the rubric used to evaluate teachers in our school district states, “The teacher takes an active role in cultivating a safe, learning-centered school culture and community that maintains high expectations for all students.” Similarly, Standard 2: Indicator 4 (Teacher Instructional Practice Standards and Indicators) states, “The teacher operates with a deep belief that all children can achieve regardless of race, perceived ability and socio-economic status.” Sadly, Minimum F Grading holds students to the absolute lowest standard and is based on the expectation that some students cannot achieve without rigging the system by changing the base line.

In the final analysis, the Minimum F Policy is a benefit to school administrators. It creates the appearance of success by minimizing student failure and increasing graduation rates, when little or no real achievement occurred. It is another way that teachers are pressured to push every student through the system regardless of their effort or ability. Students merely have to learn to jump through the right hoops in order to pass each class and graduate. It promotes a sense of entitlement rather than a solid work ethic.

(c) Joyce O’Day 2023. All Rights Reserved.

AI was NOT used in the creation of this article.

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