Public school grade inflation isn’t the answer

Pittsburgh public school students will soon learn a new lesson: There’s no such thing as failing at school.

In an effort to assist struggling students, Pittsburgh public school officials have instituted a policy that will make the minimum grade given out on any graded assignment or test a 50 percent. So, test answers such as George W. Bush was the first president of the United States or three plus three equals eight are only half wrong.

The policy is part of the district’s “Excellence for All” improvement campaign. This Band-Aid solution will not exactly reward excellence, but rather reward failure by giving it a different number and name. Any grade lower than a 50 percent is still deemed a 50 percent and called not an F, but rather an E.

This means that a student who actually earned half the credit will get the same grade as a student who knew zero percent of the material. This is unfair to both students — the student who knows more and the student who needs more help.

There is no sugar coating of failure in college nor in life. Giving public school students the idea that there might be is misleading.

The state Department of Education has no power in regulating grading scales. Thus, the 50 percent plan must be debated within the confines of the Pittsburgh district. The district spokespeople have insisted that there is no grade inflation in this policy. Yet, the mathematics are clearly skewed — a zero percent is not equal to a 50 percent.

We see that Pittsburgh public schools are trying to find a solution to persistently poor rates of matriculation, but this policy change has little likelihood of fixing that. Grading fixes are stop-gap measures unless we also work on systemic problems like parent involvement, after school tutoring, and getting drugs out of schools.

For Pittsburgh public school officials to really teach their kids an important lesson, they should leave the grading scale untouched. Then, students who actually need help can be set apart from those who do not.

In the long run, this would benefit them. Instead of looking back on their days of 50 percents and grade inflations, they may be able to look back on their improvement and succession from grade to grade.