Sometimes, good schools have bad rules. The rules were developed with good intentions, but because they govern children, these rules have almost no way of generating a good outcome.
Have you ever heard of receiving a grade of W for a class? W stands for "withdrawal", and it can be a good option to consider when you find yourself unable to complete a class with an acceptable grade. At most colleges and universities, you can take a W instead of a grade; the rules for when the W must be declared vary by school. Most allow a W any time before the final exam; for classes without a final exam, students can declare their W by the end of the following semester.
You might take a W when you realize (too late) that you really don't know what is going on, and your plans allow you to drop the class. If you just need more time, you might prefer to get an Incomplete, and complete the work according to a schedule that is agreeable with your professor. In any case, the W allows the student to decide not to complete a class in a manner that does not punish for attempting the class. While the W is not as good as getting credit for a class and earning a grade that you are proud of, there are times where it might be your best option.
It has come to my attention that several area high schools have withdrawal policies that are unfair and, I believe, cruel. There are three possibilities when you decide you are not going to finish a class:
It is my hope that Principals in the area will review their policies regarding the use of the WF. I believe that there is no good justification for penalizing a student who took an academic risk, and who persisted in trying to complete the class. The persistence should not be punished with a 0 calculated into the GPA. That the student will not earn credit for the class should be penalty enough for taking the W. Being forced to average a 0 into the student's overall GPA, and potentially affecting college offers, is a penalty too large.
If you are a parent with a student in high school, take a look at the school's curriculum guide. The grading policies, including the policies concerning withdrawals should be in that guide. If your school has a policy that penalizes a student for persisting in a challenging class with the WF, you should talk to your Principal about what the community can do to change it.
If you have a student who seems to be running up against all kinds of weird, unfair rules, please consider contacting me to help you sort it out. Because when our kids are being unfairly buffeted by rules that always seem stacked against them, the first thing we need to do is to figure out why that is the case. Once we understand that, we can work with the school administration, teachers, and other professionals to neutralize the situations that put our child at a disadvantage. And because our child is not unnecessarily disadvantaged, the teachers can challenge them to learn and grow throughout their school experiences. Because we want your child to be happy and successful in school, in college, and throughout life.
Mari Franklin is a counselor at law who specializes in helping students secure accommodations at school.