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The 50 percent rule

Photo: Sinclair Broadcast Group

BALTIMORE. M.d. (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - There's a debate going on in school districts across the country. It’s often called the 50 percent rule: giving students half-credit no matter what, even if they don’t show up to class.

It’s designed to motivate struggling students. But some educators believe it’s rewarding bad behavior.

It's a whiteboard message that went viral. A Florida teacher refusing to give grades she says weren’t earned.

"I’m so upset," said teacher Diane Tirado.

Diane Tirado lost her job. The school system says she was fired for poor performance and possible abuse, which is being investigated. But, Tirado claims she was fired for not following the school’s guidelines that says a student cannot receive a grade lower than a 50.

"We have a nation of kids that are expecting to get paid and live a life just for showing up and it's not real, Tirado said."

Dana Casey, a Baltimore City teacher, agrees.

“That’s exactly correct, Casey said. They keep saying, let’s just lower the bar and lower the bar and lower the bar a little bit more.”

For more than 20 years, Dana Casey has been a teacher in Baltimore, Maryland which has that same 50 percent minimum grade rule.

“The emphasis is on the passing. The emphasis is not on the learning,” Casey said.

Baltimore City Schools told Spotlight on America, “If lower numerical grades for a marking period were permitted, a student could easily give up on a course when it became apparent part way through the year that passing was a mathematical impossibility,” said Edie House Foster, Office of Communications.

“A majority of the school districts are investigating it,” said Education consultant, Richard Wormeli.

Richard Wormeli is a former teacher turned education consultant. He travels the country arguing in favor of the so-called 50 percent rule. Wormeli says giving students a zero on a test or assignment may not accurately reflect how much they’ve learned.

“If we were to take temperature readings for a week, 85, 88, 87, 86 and so on. And we forgot to take the temperature on a Friday. We might record nothing, which is, in essence, a zero. And if we had to average that, that would bring the temperature back down to the 60s, if we were reporting the temperature for that week. That would be a false report of what actually happened with the weather,” Wormeli explained.

But Wormeli feels the 50 percent rule is just a symptom of what he considers the real problem.

“We are so stuck on the hundred-point scale because it tends to be this, it was done to me, so it must be OK to do it to the next generation,” Wormeli said.

Wormeli says we need a new type of grading scale –- one with a smaller range, say 0-50, where if a student misses a test or is chronically absent, they can still pass a course if they can show they’ve learned the material.

“Did they present evidence of learning? That's what the grade is reporting. Not how hard they worked,” Wormeli argues.

“Once or twice on occasion, it might help a kid here and there. But no, I think it’s ultimately destructive,” teacher Dana Casey said. “They’ve sent out the message you will not be held accountable, don’t worry about it.”

Education consultant Wormeli estimates that more than half of our schools nationwide are looking into revamping grading systems or have made changes in recent years.

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