The Insidious “D”

November
2013
Rich Copenhagen, President, Student Senate for California Community Colleges

The “D” grade is a bad investment. It is bad for California and it is bad for students. To be honest, it is a false promise, a deceptive key to the gate of success.

California public education has long held to the grading standards of the “A, B, C, D, F, P, NP” system, with the occasional plus/minus thrown into the mix. “A, B, C and P” represent success. They are the letters you wear on your scout sash to show the achievements you have realized and the hurdles you have overcome. “F and NP” are for failing. These aspects of the system are plain and simple.

“D” is the renegade. “D” is a liar. It whispers to you that in the community college system, in many schools, it is a passing grade. You really only need to get 60% in your class and you’ll be a success. It poisons your willpower and creeps its way into your inkwell. It draws in chalk, falsifying the finish line, which is then washed away with the next precipitation of scrutiny. In all practicality, the “D” devalues the recipient.

State regulations define a “D” grade as being “less than satisfactory” (Title 5 §55023). Transfer institutions scoff at the 1.0 grade point and reject it as less than credit-worthy. Even workplaces have developed a habit of examining transcripts of applicants and denying those with “less than satisfactory” showing up in the wrong places. Somehow, though, some in the community college system think that “less than satisfactory” is different from failing. In the real world, it is not.

Our colleges are supposed to teach California’s people to be effective threads in the fabric of reality. According to the California State Legislature, “a primary mission of the California Community Colleges is to advance California’s economic growth and global competitiveness through education, training, and services that contribute to continuous work force improvement” (Education Code §66010.4). If that statement is to hold true, we should systemically encourage our students to understand reality as reality is and not be coddled into false security by cushioned grading schemes. Never has a law been passed suggesting that Californians want the community colleges they pay for to just make everyone feel good about themselves without having actually accomplished something as simply useful as “satisfactory” work. The Educational Master Plan for California has no line directing our colleges to give out consolation prizes when they fail to build a student up or when a student is simply not ready to finish a course well. We should not assume such a responsibility and lower our standards.

By lowering these standards, those of us in the California Community College System are hurting our students. The “D” exists to make faculty feel better about failing people. It is a way of saying, “Hey, you tried, and I tried; can we still be friends?” No, we cannot. If you assign me a “D” grade when I would be much better off being told that my work did not satisfy your requirements, then we cannot be friends. By assigning me a “D,” you are poisoning my self worth and diminishing my societal value. By assigning any student a “D” you are failing that student. A system that polishes, repackages, and sells failure will ultimately fail California.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.