Credit or No Credit System

Teacher explains the pros and cons of the credit or no credit system.

By Rafael Duran

“Ultimately you get what you invest in. If students invest in their own education, it'll pay off for them in the long run. If they don't, then they will probably struggle later in life. That's what concerns me,” CPUSH and APUSH teacher Caldwell comments on student performance involving the credit/ no credit system.

Caldwell is in favor of having this system for students because of the vast amount of different situations that range from leaving textbooks and notebooks at school to being in a foreign country, and lowering the grades for these students would only continue to stress them out.

“First, some of my own students have contacted me to tell me that they are not in the country any more, and they have very spotty Internet. I think many of those students are probably in Mexico, which is having a hard time with the coronavirus.Second, I have a number of students who are learning disabled, who have ADHD, who are autistic, and/or who have mental or physical health issues. Those students often rely on support they receive only at school to get their work done. Likewise, I have students who have difficult home lives and can't concentrate at home. It would be illegal as well as unethical to lower the grades of any student with an IEP, and it's unethical--just plain wrong--to do so for students who have other challenges.Third, some of my older students have had to go out and get jobs because their parents were laid off. They're working now instead of going to school. Lowering their grades would be a slap in the face. Fourth, many of my students left things they needed for class in their lockers and haven't been able to get them. A lot of my CPUSH students didn't have access to the green textbook, and a lot of my APUSH students left their history notebooks in their lockers. Lack of access shouldn't result in a lower grade,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell also believes that students prioritize their grade level over learning and understanding the material. Contributing to this, she states that a student’s GPA does not matter because colleges and universities will accept student portfolios regardless of their GPA. An ideal scenario for Caldwell would be to all together replace a grading system because it defeats a growth mindset.

“Also, I think very firmly that the whole system of scoring points and assigning letter grades and GPAs is fundamentally detrimental to student success at school. Students who do poorly get Ds and Fs and think they're failures, when they're not. Students tend to value themselves in direct correlation to their grades--they think a student with high grades is "better" than a student with low grades, for example--and a great deal of the anxiety at school is about grades. No one is anxious over whether they have properly learned about the Cold War, for example. They're anxious about their GPAs, which they think they need to get into college. (No, you don't; college admissions for most of the universities in the nation, including Harvard, will accept portfolios of student work in lieu of transcripts with GPAs.) Grades create a system of extrinsic motivation, which by its nature defeats growth mindset. If we want kids to start valuing effort and learning, we have to ditch grades all together. Otherwise we're scaring kids into performing, and that's fundamentally wrong,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell states that humans enjoy learning and feel better about themselves when they are able to do it, but when humans are graded based on their performance, they suffer. While Caldwell was teaching middle school, she ran an experiment to see how not grading assignments affected their work.

“Human beings are hard-wired to learn. We actually get endorphins if we learn something. It makes us feel good and boosts our self-esteem and our standing in society. Students will still learn, and they'll try harder, if they don't have to worry about passing. I know this because I ran an experiment on it back when I taught middle school. Kids tried harder and were more concerned about doing a good job on their work if they didn't receive grades on it,” Caldwell said.

Closing her statements, concludes that her students are not able to perform at the same level, partly because of fear. She has also heard from students that they wish to return to school for other reasons than just friends. She overall appreciates the District’s decision to have a credit/ no credit system.

“Most of my students have done little to no work for me since the SIP began. I don't think this is entirely about it being easy to pass, or them having passed already. I've heard from a lot of students who want to go back to school, and not just for the socialization. It's harder to be motivated to learn when you're anxious, afraid, distracted, dealing with family issues that you can't get a break from, grieving, sick, or otherwise affected. There are dozens of reasons why kids are not doing their work or performing on the same level as they were before the SIP happened. To say they're not doing as much, or as well, due to the SIP is...incomplete. Because of that, I prefer to err on the side of helping kids out by failing to be concerned about grades, and by appreciating the sensible decision the district made to make this semester credit/no credit only.”