The change in educational philosophy is intended to encourage students to continue working toward mastery of material rather than accepting a failing grade and moving on. Schools throughout the Washington area and the nation have made other moves to improve grading methods, especially as they affect low-performing students, though few have gone so far as West Potomac High, in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.
“It’s a huge paradigm shift,” said principal Clifford Hardison, who recalls that when year-end grades were tallied last June at West Potomac, he counted nearly 2,000 Fs, with a large group of teens racking up more than one failed course.
The new strategy has critics – both within West Potomac and beyond – who fear that reducing the possibility of outright failure gives teachers less leverage while also giving students unrealistic expectations about the adult world they soon will enter. Some worry that the reordering of deadlines and test opportunities will also affect the transcripts of the college-bound, giving some students an advantage.