Friday, February 09, 2007
What does a grade of 'D' mean?
I should have figured this out by now, but I really haven't.
My cc, like most colleges, doesn't give transfer credit for courses in which a student got a 'D.' The standard is a C or better, even though a 'D' is officially a passing grade.
Technically, a 'D' is passing, but it's a sort of a we-don't-really-mean-it pass. A grudging pass, or perhaps a mercy pass. A “you suck at this, but we don't see much point in putting you through this again” pass.
Or, it can be an “I don't ordinarily fail students, but you're testing my faith” pass.
D's make some level of sense if you believe the ancient fiction that a 'C' is an average grade. That hasn't been true for a long time, if ever, but if it were true, a 'D' would carry the relatively clear meaning of 'below average, but still acceptable.' Of course, if it were still acceptable, colleges would take it in transfer. But C's aren't really average, and D's aren't really accepted.
In some majors with relatively strict prerequisite chains, a 'D' doesn't allow a student to take the next level course. (We do that with calculus, bio, nursing, and music theory.) The student can still switch majors and possibly keep the credit for the D course, but that's it. It's a sort of consolation prize – you lose, but thanks for playing. Sort of like the standard 'last call' shout-out at dive bars – you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.
I'm of divided mind on the continued existence of the D grade. If we've moved away from the idea of C as average in favor of C as effective minimum, then it's not clear to me why the D still exists. Either you've met the minimum, which is a C or better, or you haven't, which is an F. You're either on the bus or off the bus. The D suggests that you're being dragged along behind the bus, which strikes me as worse.
(Full disclosure: I got a D in Russian in college. In my defense, I was young and stupid. I worked my ass off, but just never got the hang of that #$%*#% language. It felt very much like being dragged along behind the bus.)
The issue is coming up now as we're negotiating some pretty good articulations with four-year colleges, in which they're actually agreeing to take an Associate's degree as a block, rather than picking it apart on a course-by-course basis. To get an Associate's, you have to complete the required number of credits with a GPA of 2.0 (a 'C') or better. Someone could graduate with some 'D' grades, as long as there were enough A's and B's to keep the GPA above water. So if a destination school takes transfers on a course-by-course basis, D grades don't count, but if they take the degree as a block, D's do count.
Our argument – that they should count – is based on parity with 'native' students at the four-year college. If they let their own students reach 'junior' status with some 'D' grades, as long as the overall 2.0 GPA is there, then why should our grads be treated differently? Characteristically, this puts D's in the 'they don't transfer, unless they do' category. They get dragged along behind the bus.
In my faculty days, I gave a few D's here and there. My grading was pretty numerical, so there was a set range of averages that equaled a D. But I was always stumped when asked if a D was 'really' passing.
What does a 'D' mean when you give it? Should we get rid of it?