Grades: a D or an F? I’ll take an F please.

Oh, you’ve heard the old adage that less is more. We all know that it’s wrong. Why would you want quieter speakers, a slower computer, or less money? Everybody knows that more is indeed more. But more doesn’t mean better, as some students in a California school are learning.

Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, California opened two years ago with a new premise-abolishing Ds from the grading system. And in many ways, it makes sense-nobody wants Ds, and they’re perched right between the permissible C and the dreaded F. But alas, in practice, this system didn’t work—high school students (and their parents) became frustrated with the failing grades some of them received, which lowered their GPAs. As a result, the district finally decided to add Ds back to the mix, and as a small gift, retroactively changed every single F into a D. Great, right? Nope. While it did raise the GPAs of students, it also prevented them from retaking subjects that they had previously failed. Obviously, many of these students actually wanted the F—by having a failing grade, they were allowed to retake classes, something that a barely-passing D didn’t allow them to do.

So in a situation like this, what is a school to do? Bring back the Fs? Change the policy and allow students with Ds to retake classes? This is not an easy question to answer, and there is a cost to each option as well. If the school allowed students with Ds to retake classes, wouldn’t this hurt students who had just barely gotten a C by not allowing them the opportunity to retake a course? And how well do grades truly demonstrate differences in knowledge? Does a 71% take significantly more effort or knowledge to earn than a 69%? From my perspective, it seems like the best way to solve this problem is to allow all students to retake courses, regardless of the grade they received. It isn’t fair to give a group of students a second chance simply because they did poorly the first time they took a class. If a second chance is given, it should be extended to all students.

The ramifications of this extend well beyond a student’s freshman transcript; in today’s increasingly competitive world, we often look to standardized measurements (like grades and test scores) as shortcuts to find optimal candidates for jobs and positions. At a place like Duke, it is easy to see how important these standards are. While these standards are often useful and efficient, we must also consider the shortcomings. For example, grades don’t demonstrate promise or dedication, and they don’t inherently take into account improvement over time.

We’ve all been in that instance where we are on the border of a better (or worse) grade. We know how much of a difference these small indicators make. And as a result, it is our responsibility to look (and live) beyond these standards. We should accept them, but we should also look at them as just a small part of who an individual is.