Why Schools Should Use Mercy Grades

As you probably know, a growing trend in schools is the “mercy” grade. A “mercy” grade is a minimum numerical grade allowed to be recorded for a student. The rationale for the “mercy” grade is to give students a fighting chance should they decide to get serious. Also, the minimum grade in college is an F. If a high school gave letter grades, no one would know the difference between a 0 and a 69. In college, the average of an A, a B, and an F is a C. But in high school, the average of a 95, an 90 and a 5 is 60, or an F.

Presently, I do not record a grade below 50. This is part of my school’s Fair Grading Policy. But I have not seen that it has an effect one way or the other. In fact, I am a staunch proponent of the minimum grade.

The rationale is clear, but for many years I was that guy… “Yeah, but…” I teach math, and I used to believe that the grade was the grade was the grade. So a few years ago, I decided to do a little action research. I recorded no grade less than 60 on any task for an entire year, even my AP class.. Can you guess what happened? I experienced the same proportion of failure as every year previous, about 10%.

I found that most of the students who would have failed with a “true” grade failed with “mercy” grades. However, I also found that the “mercy” grade does help one or two students in my classroom.  In other words, “giving” a 60 only prevented failure for one or two students, but it did keep them in the game, and that is what the policy is designed to do. When someone decides to hunker down, they can still pass for the year.

Best of all, when it’s time to meet with parent(s), the minimum score policy helps them understand that you are on the same team as their child, that you want what is best.

Anyone else experimenting with minimum grading?