One of the biggest contributors to both the grade inflation and the anxiety and stress inflation described above is the increase in the amount of retakes/rewrites, completion points, test corrections, and extra credit offered by schools. Students and parents demand these extra chances for a pretty clear reason: they improve grades. Of course, there's also some truth to the fact that students learn more when they retake something or turn in extra credit, but the focus is still on the grade. I tip my hat to my progressive colleagues that have switched to standards- (or competency-) based grading to get out in front of this change by making retakes all about mastering a skill rather than getting a grade. Regardless, this style of assessment does not provide students a chance to truly fail. There is always a chance to get points back, to show mastery, or to massage the grade in other ways. This trend does not exist in sports.
As a coach of twenty seasons, I've noticed that my athletes respond to defeat or failure in a very different way than how my students respond to a low test grade. There's also a difference in coaching a student through failure on the field and teaching a student through "failure" in the classroom.
There are countless ups and downs in an individual game, but when it ends, the team records a W or an L, that's it. Sure, they can complain about the refs or the coaching, but it's a well established fact that you and your teammates could always do more. And there are times when you feel like you and your teammates have done everything you can to prepare, and you still end the game with an L. The permanence of these losses presents rich opportunities for improvement (read: learning).
After every game, win or lose, coaches take time talking through the game's successes and failures and defining goals for improvement. Many coaches open it up to players to contribute during that time as well. These reflections focus an athlete's and team's attitude, which helps recommit them to their goals, leading to improvement.
After a tough loss on the field, a player realizes that he needs you (his coach) and he needs his teammates in order to not experience that feeling again. This makes that player and his teammates receptive to coaching to improve for the next contest. The classroom should work the same way, but it doesn't. When a student earns a bad grade, he feels that you (the teacher) need to grade differently, teach better, write an easier assignment, etc. for him to succeed next time. The difference in agency between these two responses is everything. To be fair, I have had students who respond the way I described the player above, and I've had players (and teams) respond the way I described the student above, but anecdotally, that seems to be an exception not the rule. So how can teachers make this the rule, rather than the exception?
- There have to be assignments where students lose (or fail)
- There has to be permanence to this failure
- There has to be time to digest and reflect on failure
- Some assignments should be too hard so that success is variable
- There have to be times when students try hard, but fail
- Rather than retakes, there has to be instruction to improve after failure
- There should be multiple opportunities to practice and improve, but not to change a grade/outcome (think about a season with many games).