F Grades: Do They Serve Any Purpose?

We have to ask ourselves what we are assessing when we give a child a failing grade. This is a hot topic amongst homeschoolers who tend to take a critical view of the school system. Schools are reluctant to assign a failing grade to young children and I have heard many parents bemoan the fact that kids are getting away with something by not failing. They see it as missing a natural consequence for their behavior. But is it the school’s job to assess behavior?

Let’s say the subject is LA and the project is to write a paragraph. If the child doesn’t do it, we might give her an F grade. Are we saying that she cannot write a paragraph or that she is lazy? Are we giving her an F in skill or in effort? Maybe she has a bad disposition. so are we are giving her an F in attitude? Let’s say she hands it in two weeks late. Do we give her an F for not having the assignment in on time? But suppose that it is an A paper? Now, is the F because she cannot meet the student learning outcome of writing a paragraph or is she getting an F in time management?

Therein lies the problem. The school’s job is to teach the subject matter and there are certain student learning outcomes that must be met. The child should be able to write a sentence, use periods at the end of sentences, write a paragraph, etc. Schools assign work so that children can demonstrate that they are able to meet the objectives. Whether or not the child is lazy, has a bad attitude or poor time management is beside the point.

You might find a lawyer who aced the bar exam but who has lousy ethics. They are separate issues. The lawyer might be fantastic in the courtroom. You still may not want to hire this person because of poor character, but that doesn’t change the fact that he or she is good at the job.

I have struggled with this issue for years because I thought the same way as many people, “How does not getting an F prepare the child for the ‘real world’? The answer is that it doesn’t necessarily and nor does it have to.

The school can’t be everything to everyone and cover all the bases. They have a specific mandate and that is to teach subject matter and skills. It is not the school’s job to instill morality and ethics in our kids; that’s still our job, whether or not we homeschool. It’s up to parents and the church to teach morals, ethics, behavior, life skills, etc. I think that it’s unfair to put all of that on the school system and to criticize them for a crumbling society. We all bear responsibility.

To be fair, the school must assess student learning outcomes. If a child can write a perfect paper but hands it in three weeks late, the school must assess whether or not the child can write a paper, not whether or not he or she is responsible and manages time well.

When kids tick us off and we want to teach them a lesson, we have the power to give them a failing grade, but to be fair to them and to our system, we must ask the question, “What are we really grading with this F?”


Dianne Dachyshyn is a freelance writer and a motivational speaker who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  She works as a home education facilitator, helping homeschooling families plan their programs and deal with challenges.  Dianne is passionate about teaching children to write.  Visit her website at HomeschoolWell.com.

avatar Dianne Dachyshyn (14 Posts)

Dianne Dachyshyn is a freelance writer and a motivational speaker who lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She works as a home education facilitator, helping homeschooling families plan their programs and deal with challenges. Before working as a facilitator, she home educated her three children for seven years. She has sold curriculum, worked as a private consultant to homeschoolers, served on a homeschooling board and has been a keynote speaker at homeschool conventions and support meetings. Dianne is passionate about teaching children to write. From her experience in the classroom, in homeschooling and in relationships with other writers, she knows that this is by far the most challenging area to learn and to teach. Dianne Dachyshyn is available to speak to groups on the topics of homeschooling, parenting and teaching writing. She can be reached at dianne@homeschoolwell.com.


3 Responses to F Grades: Do They Serve Any Purpose?

  • avatar
    Aminhotep says:

    “What are we really grading with this F?”

    An F is a failure of the school system to meet the students needs.

    “It is not the school’s job to instill morality and ethics in our kids; that’s still our job, whether or not we homeschool. It’s up to parents and the church to teach morals, ethics, behavior, life skills, etc.”

    Ultimately, morality is all that schools teach. Once we have forgotten all of the content knowledge learned in class, the doctrines of obedience, cooperation and institutional learning stay with us forever. Morality is not taught through content knowledge, it is taught through the design and values of the system.
    .-= Aminhotep´s last blog ..Why does school suck? We teach it to suck. =-.

  • I certainly agree with you. Giving a child an F doesn’t get the paragraph written. Doesn’t address the reason why she didn’t write the paragraph. It’s simply punishing her for not meeting our standards instead of working with her to find out what’s going on.

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