Teachers, are you willing to fail students who try

I know a girl in my calculus class. She isn’t too bright from what I can tell. She tries, and she goes to the lectures and the help sessions (which 80% of the class do not attend) but she isn’t doing to well in the class. Luckily the class is curved so on tests no more than 5-10% of the class gets lower than a C- so she is going to pass the class. But it made me think about failure in college and I am curious as to whether you feel that effort counts in class as well as test taking and recitation of knowledge.

So if you are a k-12, undergraduate, graduate or some other kind of teacher in an independent field (ie a teacher of sports or cooking or something) are you willing to fail students who try hard but still can’t learn the material well enough or do you feel that trying hard and almost making it is good enough? Do you feel qualms about failing someone if you know they are trying harder than most everyone else in the class? Do you like the students who get Cs but who always show up for class and always ask for help better than those who never show up for class and ace exams without trying?

I guess it’s much easier for me, in that I see them for twenty minutes in a music examination. and that’s it.

If they’re in danger of not doing what is expected, they know it. If they don’t, the fault is inadequate teaching - which in this context is rare. So I’m quite happy to fail them on individual elements, where they deserve it (scales, perhaps? :wink: = for all those who hated their music lessons). Failing the whole exam means consistently failing several elements, which (given that the exam entry is made a long time earlier) is normally down to insufficient effort.

I haven’t ever had the occasion-- usually students who are really really trying will at least pick up enough to get something in the C range. The only people I ever wind up failing are people who missed an exam or assignment, plagiarized something, or dropped off the face of the earth, with the occasional person who comes to every lecture but somehow doesn’t pick up on a single. . . fecking. . . fact (I have one of those right now-- I have no idea how he does it as he’s not an idiot. I suspect he’s very stoned in class. I honestly don’t know how his final grade will be but his quizzes have all been worse than even students who miss class and fake it without having heard the material. He is a mystery).

We are all “standards-based” in my department, so effort doesn’t count for much in the end. I can tweak it a little, but we don’t have “D” grades either. It’s 70% or an “F.”

Before went went to this paradigm, I would reward effort with a passing grade if I thought they were really trying, and just stupid. Of course, I usually just changed my teaching style until they did get it. I think 50% of all “failures” can be traced to hidebound, rigid teaching methods by teachers who have forgotten why they are there.

I will fail kids who try, but that is almost inevitably a kid who is trying to try but dosen’t even know how.

I teach a rigorous AP English course. Sometimes I get kids who are jumping up from regular English classes who reall just don’t get how hard the class is and what a reasonable expectation of effort is in that context. In their mind, if they are putting in an hour or three a week on English and they come to see me 10 minutes before school starts once or twice a six weeks, they are trying. It’s certainly more English homework than they have ever done for the regular classes. But that isn’t enough from a kid who two years behind (and I am two years ahead of hte regular classes). I need to see them for signifigant chuncks of time for remedial lessons, and stuff that takes other kids half an hour is going to take them two or three hours.

These kids often get frustrated and leave AP, even when I think they have the potential to succeed. I try very hard both to ease the transition and to be blunt about how much work they will have to do, but some never really understand that they aren’t really trying yet. And if their work is substantially sub-par, I fail them.

That said, I am careful to balence my grades in advance so that you can still fail a lot of things and so long as you do a good job on the things I can hold your hand through, you will pass–witha low 70, but a pass.

Mrs. Blue Sky is a teacher and she rarely gives up on any student who is really trying. She’ll tutor, get special material, or whatever it takes. If it looks like the kid just isn’t getting it still, she’ll recommend remedial classes.

She is also sure to get the parents involved.

I’ve never had to fail a student who tried. If they’re willing to come get help, we’ll get them through. I tell them that I’m not going to let them fail as long as they stick with me. Sometimes they totally freak out on me, because they need my course for their major and their program is very rigid, so losing a semester will royally screw them over and they can’t do the required summer internship without a passing grade in physics and they’ll lose their scholarship and have to go home and live with their parents and their life will basically be over and they’re only nineteen years old and and and and . . . So I tell them, all whispered and confidential-like, that even if they get a failing score, I’ll doctor the numbers and give them a C-.

Never had to do it. :slight_smile:

I should point out that I have the luxury of teaching sophomores in a very demanding program at a fairly selective college, so they lazy and the slow have mostly been picked off by the time they get to me. Even if some of them are not too bright, they are motivated and very, very hard-working.

Not a teacher now, but spent 7 years teaching at a university in computer science, hope this meets your criteria.

It was highly technical. Not everone got it, But, it was not so highly technical that most could not manage a passing grade.

I spent equal amounts of time “counseling” students who were barely passing and students who were doing C or B level work when I knew they could get A’s with a little more commitment. Thus, being asked my your loving instructor to have a short talk didn’t mean you were a scumbag in my classes.

The “try, really try” thing usually works. When it doesn’t, an invite to my house for dinner with the wife and I followed by a skull session or two usually helped. I can’t honestly say if it was the extra work or just the “caring” and going an extra mile or two that did the trick. But, it usually did. I taught part-time, and my students knew going in that I was not there for the salary; I was that most dangerous of individuals, A Man With A Mission.

Sometimes, though, the student just did not have the necessary talent to do this particular thing, as I have zero talent in higher mathematics. And, sadly, I did have to flunk a few. Happily, they were very, very few.

I really had only one rule in my class: I am here because of you, you are not here because of me.

If it’s class that isn’t a pre-requisite for later required coursework (like trignometry is for calculus), a student will not be benefited by “passing them along”. But, if it’s calculus and the student doesn’t have any more math to take after that, a “pity” D doesn’t sound like a bad thing.

I’m not currently a teacher, but I taught chemistry and physics for 7 years at a military prep school.

I can only think of one student in 7 years who I gave a failing grade to who was actually trying. She was just woefully underprepared to be there.

She got a 20% on the first exam. After months of tutoring, she actually scored as high as a 40% before she was involuntarily disenrolled for poor grades. She was failing all of her classes, it turns out.

I gave failing grades to a number of other students over the years, but except for that one exception noted above, it was because they weren’t trying.

When I was in college, on the other hand, my profs generally didn’t care whether you were trying or not. All that mattered was performance.

That’s what D’s are for. In all the colleges I’ve seen, D = passing, C- = minimum to count as a pre-requisite for another class.

This is pretty much my take on things, too.

It is true, though, that it is very rare for a student who attends class everyday, submits homework assignments on time, and studies for exams will fail the course. However, those students pass the course because they are actually taking the steps needed to learn the material.

For those rare situations, I will take several factors into account. If it is a prerequisite for a course they have to take in the future, and their ability to pass the next course depends largely on understanding the material in the current course, then I would NOT give a “pity C.” That just sets the student up for failure in the next class (and the next and the next, in some cases). I would only pass a student in this kind of class if I was sure they understood enough to be prepared for the next class, although I would certainly be willing to spend extra time with the student to help them understand the material.

If it’s a core requirement that really doesn’t have that much to do with their future job desires, and the course isn’t a prerequisite for anything else, then I would probably pass them if I felt that they really had tried their best. (I taught college French for many years. Most of the students were taking the courses just to fulfill the language requirements, and while I wouldn’t pass first- or second-semester students that easily, if they were in their fourth semester of French, taking it only as a requirement for graduation, I did sometimes let them slip by, since I didn’t see that making them take the class again would solve any problems.)

However, in my experience, the “D” students generally fall into one of three classes:

  1. They don’t attend class and/or they don’t do any work outside of class. These students will often have a good basic knowledge of the course subject, and for some reason feel that there is nothing else for them to learn, so they don’t really feel the need to do any work on their own to pass the course. Since these students don’t really try very hard, the OP question is not relevant.

  2. They have a legitimate learning disability. Sometimes, students will start college knowing they have a LD, but choosing to ignore it. Maybe they think it will magically disappear if the instructors don’t know about it, or if they spend five hours a day staring at a book they can’t read or comprehend. Other times, they really don’t know about the disability, because no one ever thought to test them for it. I do sometimes refer students to testing centers, since if a disability is recognized, we can usually make accommodations for them or provide extra tutoring, to help them learn the material without having to just “pass them on.”

  3. They don’t have a clue what it means to study, and be responsible for learning the material they are expected to learn. These students attend class every day, but expect someone to tell them the answers to their homework, without having to understand those answers themselves. They expect to pass a course by simply memorizing flash card facts, without understanding that they need to create a web of facts to understand why they are important, or how they are related to each other. These students say they spend several hours every day studying, but if you were to watch them through Candid Camera eyes, they would be sitting at a desk with the book open, talking on the phone, IM’ing friends, watching TV, with occasional glances at the book. They do not take notes during class, nor do they take notes about what they read, or highlight anything in any text. They might show up at office hours during the last month or so of class, but only to ask for answers, and to see if they can get extra credit to make up for work that they chose not to do earlier in the quarter.

When I was teaching at State U and at community colleges, I flunked kids who tried. If someone is writing at a 8th grade level, they don’t belong in college.

At the “career college” I’m at now, I won’t flunk anyone who is trying.

This is Robardin’s wife: a college math professor

Most professors don’t consider students to be making a serious effort unless they are doing the homework. Attending a class and watching people do mathemtics is not making an effort to learn a course. In fact most faculty do not require attendance because they realise that many students can learn calculus perfectly well by reading and studying the book. Certainly a student who can do all the homework doesn’t need to attend the problem session.

Calculus shouldn’t be graded on a curve. It should be graded on knowledge acquired. If 50% of the class cannot differentiate at the end of calculus I then 50% of the class should fail. There is no way these students will be able to learn Calculus II or other subjects that require the calc.

I do not feel qualms about failing a student who is trying hard. Passing them without the knowledge is just leading to more trouble later on. Getting an F or two in college and retaking a course has almost no permanent consequence, but getting in over your head in more advanced math courses can lead to repeated F’s.

Ideally I notice a student is working hard but failing early in a course and recommend that they retake the prerequisite subject. Often they have a C
in that course and can either sit in on it or retake it for a new grade before trying calculus. Very few students in calculus don’t have the ability for it but many don’t have the prerequisite knowledge.

As I mentioned above, not showing up to class has nothing to do with not trying.
The students who never show and come into class to ace the exams are either
working hard on their own or have taken the course in high school and were incorrectly advised to retake the course.

Students who ask questions about every homework problem and don’t seem to try anything independently are aggravating and annoying. Students who are trying hard doing the homework, asking intelligent questions, and are still getting C’s do get some sympathy from me in the form of offering to help them longer during office hours.

Students who test poorly but do impressive homework and display serious intelligence in class (like offering steps in a proof) are another crowd entirely. For these students I try to assign more very difficult take home extra credit projects to boost their grades. Ultimately mathematics is much harder than what you see on exams and some of these students are better prepared to be mathematicians, engineers and scientists than the ones that test well.

Teachers, are you willing to fail students who try?
Yes, and I have done so. Regardless of effort a student has to demonstrate a minimum mastery of the subject matter. It’s not a service to them or their future instructors to pass a student who did not satisfy minimum requirements. However, in an undergraduate course, I do want students to let me know if they’re graduating seniors. I’d prefer to not hold anyone up from graduating, but in those cases I might find additional ways for the struggling student to satisfy the course requirements, e.g., research papers, extra problem sets, etc.

A big part of grading students is being fair to the whole class. I find that there is a large ‘silent majority’ of students who just get on with things without much fuss, its not fair on these people if you’re giving a weak student too much of a helping hand. This is a big deal in the organic chemistry teaching lab that I run, many students really struggle to finish on time and get very stressed out about it. I’m guaranteed to hear five or six tearful sob stories from students every term. One to one I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt, no problem, but I can’t do this as it would be very unfair on the 90% of the class who have successfully passed the course.

I taught at the college level for many years as well as of course once being a student.

You grade people as objectively as possible. That’s it. Period. End of discussion.

Anything else is horribly, horribly unfair to one and all.

I was unfairly graded at the other end of the scale many times. I would get the highest score but end up with a “B” because I wasn’t trying hard enough. Forget that.

Yes. I don’t like to do it, but I have and I will.

Now, I’m not a classroom teacher per se, but teaching is teaching. I teach Taekwondo and the requirements for promotion in rank are quite clear, and they get increasingly more difficult as the student advances.

For in-school testings, we have what we refer to as the “instructor’s discretionary ten points”. Part of what we teach is attitude and dedication and perseverance, so if we have a student who has busted their hump through the testing cycle, then has a bad hair day at testing, we can look at their effort throughout and mentally add 10 points to their score. And it works the other way, as well: if we have a student who might be naturally quite athletic and picks up the techniques quite well but dogs it and does minimal work through the testing cycle, we can mentally knock off 10 points.

Once you get high enough in rank, you then are testing at regional or national events, and for the testing panel, it quite literally is WYSIWYG. They grade you solely on your performance right then and there, and they are strict. It took me three attempts to make 5th Degree because I was 10 points short on my scores on the first two tests. I needed 260, got 250. Third time was the charm.

Pretty much what robardin said.

If a class is a prerequisite for any other class, it makes no sense to give a student a passing grade if they’re totally unprepared for what comes next.

A student who fails calculus even after trying her hardest either was unprepared for the class and should have mastered the prerequisites first, or is so weak in math that she shouldn’t be pursuing a course of study that requires calculus.

Effort should count indirectly. Increased effort should lead to increased competence/knowledge/mastery of the subject, which should lead to increased grades. If it doesn’t, then either it’s the wrong kind of effort, or the class isn’t being taught & graded very well, or the student is not suited to that class.

What he said.

The place where i go to grad school is a pretty prestigious private university, so the undergrads are all pretty strong students when they want to be, and when one of them fails a course it’s usually due to not doing the work, rather than not being smart enough to get it.