Why You Should Change Grades

In a stack of papers called Grading.

  • Feb
  • 01
  • 2007

A student who earns a D or an F first semester can change that grade by earning a C the second semester.


Regularly, poor performance in my class equates to not doing the work assigned. A student earning an F usually can change that with a little effort. Attempting to do the writing, reading, speaking, or thinking I’m asking gives me ideas of what a student needs in order to do better. Without any of that work, I have no way of knowing where that student is and how I can reach him or her.

Just as regularly, students don’t realize the impact of losing one semester of English credit until second semester. Another example of the myopia of youth. But those students, while perhaps turning in more work and putting forth more effort second semester, still have that failing grade from first semester hanging over their heads. That’s still 5 units they don’t earn.


So a few years ago, I put together a grade contract. Much of the idea is taken from a friend of mine, but I’ve put enough thought into this to call it mine. I’ll change an F to a D or a D to a C-, something the students only find out about during the week of first semester finals. Other teachers on campus make verbal agreements with students, but I like to get things in writing, to rest assured that parents/guardians know about the arrangement, too.

In the past, I’ve only seen about a 10% return on this investment (out of 50 grade contracts, only 5 do the work that warrants a grade change), but attitudes certainly improve and students feel more control over their educational lives. And yes, I’ve had years where 50 students out of 140 earn a D or an F, though a large chunk of those are usually students who never show up to class or literally refuse to do any work at all.

Would you let second semester performance affect first semester grades? Dan’s mentioned a few times that it’s a shame to punish students for not learning at the same rate as the rest of the class. If it takes a kid a bit longer to understand a concept, doesn’t that understanding earn the grade? Who cares about the timing (within reason, of course)? From my perspective, English tends to be a very circular course, so a C the entire second semester shows me understanding. Your subject area or philosophy may differ.

Download the contract.


1. Teachers At Risk » What Mark Do You Want in This Class? Ok, Sign Here says:

[2/4/2007 - 8:38 am]

[…] I really like Todd’s grade contract because it gives kids hope and the feeling of being having some control of their lives. Reading Todd’s post reminded me of something that I had done early in my teaching career. At that time , I was teaching grades nine to twelve at a vocational secondary school. As a special education teacher with a specialist in behaviour, I was assigned to help students who got kicked out of their regular classes and were timetabled to work with me to help rescue their credits. I found that I had the best results when I would get students to contract for a mark that they wanted. I had students sign a very formal looking contract printed on special paper with all the expectations outlined in detail. For an A, I will complete …, For a B, I will complete… etc. I found students responded very well -remember all things are relative- they didn’t tell me to f*** off when I introduced the contract. I told them they didn’t need to worry about getting anything more than a D, (this took them by surprise) although their final mark could be an A, B, C or D. They couldn’t contract for less than a D. Failure was not an option. I know we’re supposed to aim high, but high for these kids was a pass. […]

2. dy/dan » Blog Archive » Nobody Fails says:

[2/6/2007 - 1:18 am]

[…] So I gave out somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 Incompletes instead of F’s this semester. I was working up some sort of contract — something generous in spirit between me, the student, and her parents — when Todd Seal’s latest post dropped in my reader. I’ve been beaten to this punch, but at least he made my contract drafting a helluva lot easier. Thanks, brah. […]