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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Balch

How I Earned a "D" in PE

In High School I received a D in PE…

Wow, were you lazy?


Forget your PE clothes; come late to class?


Miss an assignment.

Not hardly. I was an otherwise "A" student who graduated top of my class.

So what happened?

I was slow.

Come again?

I was slow and my classmates were fast. Very fast. And we were graded, as in all of our other classes, on skill and merit, and not on attitude or hard work.

I do remember being shocked at the grade (and my mother being livid), but I don’t remember being overly upset by it. It actually seemed fair to me. Why should I get an "A" if I couldn’t perform? It seemed in keeping with every other class I’d ever attended.

I know what you’re thinking. That a grading system like this would be demoralizing and frustrating to kids. The hard workers would shut down and the skilled slackers would get the wrong message.

Yes, now I think you’re getting the picture. Our system rewards skill and talent over diligence and we wonder why our kids don’t have grit. Perhaps we’ve been focusing on the wrong things.

I’m all for assessment and all for conveying to kids where they need to work hard and improve. I think the problems arise when you set a standard and say that this is the bar you need to reach in this class, and if you can do that, you’ll receive an A. What about the kids who passed that bar long ago? And what about the kids who have no hope in passing the bar in the time they’ve been given?

I so appreciate my prior school for allowing us as teachers to focus on individual students and meet them where they were. The aim was always to work with students as learners: to get them to the next phase of writing or observing or analyzing data. The ultimate goal was learning to work hard and the bar we set was always just a little bit out of reach for each of them; not so high that it seemed impossible, nor so low that it seemed unworthy of their effort. The message to each was the same. Here’s where you are; now let’s see about getting to the next step on your journey. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that I can say without equivocation that every student in my class was thriving. 

What’s your experience with being graded? Did it encourage you? Frustrate you? Chime in; don’t be shy.

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