No D’s allowed… Radical Ideas from Laura Terrill at ICTFL’s TALL-IL

Not even out of the workshop but I am having a moment… Laura Terrill has been challenging us for four days to change our paradigms in the classroom but today, a real eye opener for me….

Laura’s rubric?  10/9 for an A… 10 obviously is that student that is amazing and 9 still allows for an A that has room for growth.  Her rubric is designed around questions rather than teacher terms like “language control”… ex. How well am I understood?  She has an 8 for a B and a 7 for a C but NO D or F columns. 

What?  No Ds and Fs.  This was a challenge to everyone.  We’ve never thought of it this way!  On top of the idea that people differ in opinion about the 0% or 50% as lowest failing grade, now considering not letting students fail?  It is a fascinating idea.

Laura allows retakes.  Students need to master each set of structures in order to be successful in upper level language.  If we allow Ds and Fs, we are encouraging another generation of “I took two years of X language and I can’t say anything.”  It makes SO much sense… A C is the lowest grade… what parent will argue when you say that their child needs to get some work retaken, needs to come in before or after school, needs to hand in missing work because you want them to be successful???  Holy cow!  Revolutionary!

It requires a lot of changes:

1. accepting late work… it is hard, but we need to consider that we often extend deadlines..

2. retaking assessments… students will be less likely to abuse this if they have to make up on their own time!

3. communication with parents… we’ll have to make sure that the parents know what we expect because this is radically different.

4. everyone can be successful in language… gone are the days of “language learners are college bound students!”

This is on the top of my list of changes for the new school year!  Would you consider a no-fail policy?  I sure wish everyone would consider the idea of retakes… having students feel like they can continually strive for mastery of concepts would be a great movement in education!  No more students giving up and becoming part of the classroom furniture!


  1. I am 100% with you on the retakes policy!!

    I tell parents that everything can and SHOULD be retaken until the student is getting at least a B… but consider adding a deadline to the retake policy (retakes within 3 days, for example) or you´ll have students and PARENTS (!) trying to cram in retakes the day before grades are due. If the student cannot attain a B with three extra days of honest preparation, then perhaps I am asking them to make an unrealistic leap in language ability and should adjust the assignment.

    What about parents & students who refuse to retake? I keep C´s, D´s and F´s in my grade book because otherwise some do not retake & I need a thoroughly documented history in order to give a D or F in my district. Would you rather record an “incomplete” on the transcript instead?

  2. I don’t have F’s on my rubrics either. I have “beyond expectations” “meets expectations” “near expectations” and “below expectations”. Although students may be below expectations, they are still using language.

  3. I like the idea, but agree with the comment above about the retakes within 3 days. I’m not teaching yet (I’ll be doing my student teaching this fall), but I worked with a teacher last semester who only allowed one retake every 6 weeks & she had tons students coming to her the day before the 6 weeks was up. I don’t think that helped them at all. I also think there needs to be a limit on how many times they can retake something. I like the idea that just failing or quitting the language isn’t really an option. Encouraging them to really learn the language is great. I’d love to implement something similar when I have my own classroom!

  4. it’s the beginning of making the shift from teaching to learning. it’s not that they failed and deserved a grade from us to confirm that failure. it’s that they haven’t learned it yet. they aren’t there yet. love it.

  5. In response to Michelle, I have heard from a teacher that during preparation for retakes, the students would have to complete a checklist of things in order to earn the retake. It think that would limit the last minute students…

  6. I don’t have a problem with retakes as long as they are NOT the same exact assessment, measuring the same thing, yes, but not the exact same prompt or questions. Otherwise, it’s not an assessment of ability, but rather of memorization.

    I also like not having a D option. I’ve done grading workshops at many districts that do not offer Ds. Instead it goes from C to not enough evidence (equivalent to an F). They do this because technically a D is passing and they are allowed to move to the next level even though they don’t have the ability to move on successfully.

    I allow late work up to 1 week prior to grades being do (I need to have time to evaluate it). Once the grades have been reported, they can’t go back and make up something from before that time.

    However, I don’t agree with the overall “not allowing students to fail” idea. I know that sounds harsh when you first hear it, but let me explain. For me, learning a language is a SKILL and not an academic class (one where you can study and succeed). You can’t fail a skill. You start off as a beginner, move through novice as your skills improve, then through intermediate, proficient, and if you keep on working, advanced. These are the levels that everyone must move through as they progress in ANY skill (dance, music, sports, etc). These levels can’t be skipped (though some may move through one level or another rather quickly). For me, grades are not for report cards, but rather a way to communicate progress to kids and their families.

    I, of course, want all my students to well, and work hard to help them get there, for communication purposes, I need descriptive levels to provide them with the feedback to improve and succeed.

    At the end of any school year, I have almost no complete failures (unless there was some special circumstance) and very few Ds. In both cases, these are students who had other issues and refused to take part in class activities.

  7. Hi Carrie, For me, an D or F is not only my student’s failure, it is also mine! I used these very useful steps from Reed Gillespie to implement my retake policy this year: I let students “fail” the quiz and then I show them what they have to do in order to retake a different version of the quiz. I did not have a “retake ticket” like Reed recommends but I think I will implement it next year. I have found that you have to stay on top of students who are disorganized, because organizing a retake can become very tricky. Finally, I don’t average both grades, I simply keep the second one.

      • We have a single lunch, and although by contract it is duty free I often tutor or give retakes during lunch ( although once a week is reserved for lunch with colleagues… )

        I have to say that most of my assessments are very short, which makes it logistically feasible.

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