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Failure is now an option…


Would you like an incentive plan that rewarded you 50 points or credits even if you missed your goal or objective by 50%?  Would you like to be paid a minimum commission regardless of how low your actual performance was? 

Sure.  Who wouldn’t.  Well, the folks that did hit their goal for one might have a problem with it. 

But no one would set up a system of scoring where the minimum is a set amount regardless of how low you actually performed would they?  Yep… some of our educators are leaning in that direction.

Taking the "F" Out of Failure

When traveling, a staple of plane rides and waiting areas is the trusty USA Today.  Today’s edition had two stories (here, here) that focused on a new practice that some schools are pushing through that creates a minimum score of 50 for failing a class.  No more 40’s, 30’s, or for that matter zeros.  50 is the new F.

The logic is this… all the other letter grades have roughly a 9-point range (some schools use a 7 point range) so an A is anything between 90-100, a B is between 80-89, C between 70-79 and D from 60-69.  An F however, has a range of 0-59.  The thinking is that the large range at the failing end of the schedule is a problem for those students that fail.  Since the range is so large when grades are averaged, those that fail have a harder time bringing it up. 

The article provides this example:

Student 1
Student 2
Student 3


30, 40, 80, 80
40, 40, 40, 80
0, 70, 70, 70


57.5 = F
50 = F
52.5 = F

Average with minimum of 50

65 = D
57.5 = F
65 = D

So in this example we have two students who would have failed in the "old" system but now have "D’s" – and are passing their classes.

The educators are citing "motivation" issues as the reason for this weird indexing.  They believe that students who fail lose their motivation to succeed when faced with such a tough uphill battle.  They think that keeping the failing grade to a minimum of 50 will keep the student in the race and keep their motivation up.

This is the classic disconnect between incentives and "recognition." 

The point of having grades is not to provide motivation but provide a standard of performance that ALL students must meet in order to achieve a diploma.  No different than a recognition program establishes the standard of performance for ALL participants.  The educators are mixing up the issue.  The grade of "F" with a score below 60 simply means that at a minimum we expect all students to have 60% competency in the subject.  Measuring how far below that level is critical in determining the appropriate interventions required to move the needle.  The grade is the result of the behavior and is an indicator of what needs to be done to meet the standard.

While I don’t agree that standards should be lowered even if it is one component of the process, one educator in the second article did bring up the fact that they need to focus on the individual causes of the failure and address those. 

Addressing the standard doesn’t fix the behavior.  Addressing the standard simply lowers the standard.  That’s all.  Instead of looking for root causes, the educators would rather change the standard so that the results fit their view of what the outcome should be.  In any event, lowering the standard won’t increase motivation.

Once again, a program designed to create a result – not change behavior.

Originally posted on on Incentive Intelligence

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