An analysis of some reasons given for pupil failures

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An analysis of some reasons given for pupil failures

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A Project Presented to the Faculty of the School of Education The University of Southern California

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Science in Education

by Max C. McAffee May 1950

UMI Number: EP45948

All rights reserved INFORMATION TO ALL USERS The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted. In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if material had to be removed, a note will indicate the deletion.

UMT Dissertation Publishing

UMI EP45948 Published by ProQuest LLC (2014). Copyright in the Dissertation held by the Author. Microform Edition © ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved. This work is protected against unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code

ProQuest LLC. 789 East Eisenhower Parkway P.O. Box 1346 Ann Arbor, Ml 48106-1346


*5-0 /'AH 3

T h is project report, w ritten under the direction o f the candidate’s adviser a n d ap p ro ved by h im , has been presented to and accepted by the F a c u lty of the School of Ed u catio n in p a r t ia l fu lf illm e n t of the requirements f o r the degree

o f M a s t e r of

Science in Education.


/4 S~a ..............

..... A d v is e r




I. THE PROBLEM................................. Effects of the problem on the student

. . . ♦


The scope of the problem . . . . . . . . . . .


Limitations of the study



II. THE PROCEDURE USED IN THISSTUDY.............. Approaches to the study


The amount of informationused . III.




6 7 10





The teacher’s viewpoints..................


The pupil’s viewpoints..........


The literature’s viewpoints


HT. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS....................


The purpose of the study..................


Suggestions for alleviating the problem



Teacher responsibilities ..................


Final summary and conclusions.............






I. Causes of Failures mentioned by Teachers and Pupils .



II. A Comparison of the Reasons for Pupil Failure Most Frequently Mentioned by Pupils and Teachers


III. Comparison of Failures in 9th Grade with Failures in Upper Three Grades ............. . IV. Teacher Reasons for Pupil Failures ...........

16 24

V. A Comparison of Major Reasons and Related Reasons as Given by the Teacher..............


VI. Pupil Reasons for Failure....................


VII. The Major Reasons for Failures as Given by the Pu pil .....................


CHAPTER I THE. PROBLEM Tlie typical high, school in the United States has a routine job to do towards the end of each semester.


job involves a great deal of work making out what is com­ monly thought of as "failure notices".

These notices are

so constructed as to accomodate as many failures as the number of classes the student has taken in his entire sem­ ester^ program.

It is not uncommon to see most of these

spaces occupied with an undesirable grade denoting achieve­ ment or progress. Par too frequently this type of situation is solved, in a manner of speaking, by merely sending a written notice to the parent or guardian a few weeks prior to the final report, and possibly advising the student to change his major subject.

Little consideration is given to the pos­

sibility that the student might not be adapted to the new major subject suggested to him, or that he might not enjoy a new, hurriedly selected program. From the standpoint of the student, there is little choice but to accept the rewards that are being given him. In many cases, as shall be pointed out later, the student has been well aware of what he is to receive because of his own behavior in the classroom.

There exists too many other

2 oases, however, where the student cannot be held entirely responsible, if at all, for his poor performance. I.


One concern of this project is to weigh the effects of these numerous failures being given out by the high schools, both from the standpoint of the student, and the over-all effects it may have later in the pupil’s life on society as a whole.

Undoubtedly, a student who fails most

of his classes in the schools today will have little respect for the schools of tomorrow.

His children will not be en­

couraged to attend school for fear that they will receive the same treatment that he did.

Failures that are given out

promiscuously in the schools affect the chances of the in­ dividual to get a good position when he leaves school.


employers refer back to the high school for references be­ cause the schools usually represent the sole institution where the potential employee’s background is known.


to say, the pupil who has made a poor record for himself in school feels inadequate around his friends who were able to pass.

In such cases, hostility frequently arises either to­

wards his friends or towards the faculty or the school.


this situation occurs, the schools are no longer serving their real purpose.

Democratic principles are buried in the

debris of such a plant.

3 The.chance of discouraging a school's practice of giving out many failures each semester is very small.


ceded that this task is impossible, an attempt must be made to explore the major causes that lie behind most of the failures with which this study is dealing.

The schools can­

not be held responsible for all the failures that occur each year.

Furthermore, the schools cannot be expected to over­

look workmanship of poor quality.

Thus, it is necessary to

examine important reasons why the student has failed.


reasons will be found both in and out of the schoolroom. Regardless of their origin the results are pretty much the same.

Consequently, all causes will be treated in a like

manner if the problem is to be solved. II.


In order to analyze possible causes of student fail­ ures with some degree of success, the study will be limited to tenth grade students in one of the larger high schools in. Los Angeles City.

The records concerning this particular

group are available throughout the course of this project. Consequently, the information gathered from the above men­ tioned group of students can be checked and rechecked.


are no psychological reasons for choosing this particular group.

It is felt that such a group represents a reasonable

cross section of this level throughout the city.


however, present themselves in that broad generalizations cannot be made for every other high school in the community. With this in mind conclusions shall be drawn on the basis of what can be done at the particular school in which this study is being made. This study does not limit itself to one sex because adequate information is available as concerned with both girls and boys.

It has been found that the number of fail­

ures for each sex divides themselves relatively equal.


sequently, it has been unnecessary to ferret out reasons why girls fail in one area and boys in another. Single and multiple failure reports have been used because the reasons given for failure in either case are similar.

No attempt has been made to discriminate between

underlying causes of single and multiple failures because such reasons would undoubtedly lead away from the school itself and into the home and community.

Undertakings of

this sort involve more complex problems* than have been dealt with here. III.


One outstanding weakness of this study would arise if the conclusions found in this report were to be considered constant throughout the schools of the county or state.


a weakness would be manifested in the narrow sampling taken

5 in the study.

It is quite impossible to take a few random

samples from 200 failure notices and make them symbolic of what is happening in all schools.

Unfortunately such a

procedure occurs when one or two criteria in the evaluation of pupil performance makes up the entire value, in the way of a grade, placed on such work. Another limitation of this study is the fact that only one semester*s work has been considered.

Obviously in some

cases the work would be more difficult than work done during previous terms.

This situation would nullify itself as far

as everyone in the study is concerned, but it would not repre­ sent the individual student*s constant performance. Probably the most important reason why the results found in this study should not be too generally applied is due to the subjective appraisals made by the interviewees. Every cause given for failure either by the student or by the teacher is flavored with specific situations leading up to the final failure report.

All motives behind such failures

cannot be dealt with in a study of this kind.


made by the student and the teacher may be documented accurate­ ly, but the significance behind those statements are unknown. Certain values can be placed on some of the major reasons given for student failure in that they occur much more frequently than do other causes.

Because of this common

frequency it is possible to choose one reason for failure over another.

CHAPTER II THE PROCEDURE USED IN THIS STUDY The actual causes given for pupil failure come from three major sources.

The first of these concerns itself

with theories derived from the literature in the field. That is to say, ideas that writers in the educational and guidance fields believe to be pertinent to the whole sub­ ject of student failure.

The second source represents the

viewpoints of the teachers who were actually responsible for recording the failing grades.

These viewpoints were

obtained through personal conferences with teachers and their own opinions registered in the cumulative records in the form of brief summaries of the pupil's work done in his or her class.

The third major source of information repre­

sents the viewpoints of the students actually having failed in their classes. These areas of information were chosen because they represent diverse opinions about the causes of failures in the high schools.

The viewpoint of the literature some­

times corresponds to the opinions held by the teachers, but as a whole they are quite different.

Similarities would

naturally occur because much of the literature comes from the teachers themselves.

The great difference in opinion

arises when writers in the field of adolescent psychology

7 justify their concern about the effect of constant failure on the individual student.

Where the teacher is concerned

there are many practical implications to be considered.


teacher knows that some incentive for rewards and returns must be given to the student if he or she is to apply himself conscientiously.

Otherwise, the good student as well as the

poor one will refuse to lend himself to the classroom situa­ tion.

In this repsect it justifys her actions at grading

time with accompanying remarks.

Directly opposing the

teacher*s viewpoints are the opinions held by the students themselves.

Very often the pupil is accused of rationaliz­

ing for his poor performance and, consequently, his views do not purportedly hold water.

These accusations are frequently

unjust because only the student himself knows what conditions outside the school might directly effect his performance in i the classroom, pi light of these facts,the views of the student have been considered extremely important to this investigation. I.


The information itself was gathered in at least four different ways.

Data that pertained directly to the failures

themselves were compiled firstly through the counselor*s office where all notices of failures are kept.


were then made to have the interviewees report to a guidance

s room where the interview was made.

The students were not

reluctant to offer reasons why they believed they had failed their class or classes.

They were told that the meeting was

not for the purpose of reprimanding them, but to give them help.

Then the aetual failure was brought up in the con­

versation, the students felt that they should defend them­ selves and rightly so they did.

Many of them admitted that

their cooperation in the classroom did not add to their chance of success.

Others openly resolved themselves to

the poor student-teacher relationship that had existed throughout the entire term. In connection with the views as held by the teacher, responses were obtained in part through the cumulative re­ cords.

Fortunately, all grades are not entirely based upon

academic achievement.

Because of this fact, many other

types of evaluations appear upon the records of students in the schools.

When the teacher first reports the possible

failures in her class at the end of five weeks, she makes some type of comment or recommendation*

These comments are

recorded by the school and are frequently included in the report that is sent home to the parents notifying them of the potential failure.

At the end of the term when the

final grades are sent into the registrar, another report is made by the teacher that goes into the cumulative records of the pupil.

Such reports usually consist of reasons why

9 the student failed as held by the teacher. make up part of this study.

These reasons

Additional data were acquired

through informal contacts with the teachers themselves. Since failures are so eommon in the particular school with which this report is concerned, teachers have certain con­ victions as to why or why not a student should be retained. This information is not reluctantly given out because the teacher wishes to justify her aetions to anyone concerned with the whole problem.

In any case, such information as

acquired by this procedure was checked against actual reasons given in writing on the cumulative records themselves. Library research made up the third approach to the study.

Not surprising at all was the fact that many many

people both in and out of the school are very much concerned with the problem.

Consequently, information coming from

periodicals and reviews was. plentiful.

The more recent

views on the subject were considered most important because they correspond with the problem as it stands today.

In any

case, the effect of the whole problem of failures on the individual has not altered itself completely thereby making early writings valuable also.

This type of information was

not restricted to one area of the country, but instead re­ presented the opinions of people throughout the nation.


far as the literature was concerned, the subject with which we are dealing holds the same interest and effect in most

10 high schools in the land.

However, such a generalization

has not been made as regards to this particular study. II. 'THE AMOUNT OF INFORMATION USED The amount of information used in this study repre­ sents thirty interviews with failing students selected from 200 reports.

That is to say, 200 failures were recorded

on the cumulative records of the tenth grade class in one high school for one semester.

The thirty selections were

random samples in most cases.

Availability of students

interfered with a complete program of disconcern as to whom was chosen for the interviews. contacted.

Sixty-four teachers were



Many writers in the field of education and guidance do not hold to one particular view as concerned with student failures.

They prefer to present what might be thought of

as current aspects of the problem.

In light of this, certain

opinions are given as to what is being done to modify or alleviate poor school efficiency.

It is not the aim of these

writers to denounce any system or individual who practices certain principles in a school.

Instead, many facts are

presented in a documentary way explaining recent trends in the schools throughout the country. Luella Cole, in her book on the "Psychology of Adolescence," gives an account of what she thinks is happen­ ing in the average high school. The number of failures in high school is being steadily reduced by two different modes of attack upon the problem. On the one hand, courses are con­ stantly being made easier and of more immediate practical usefulness. The modern high school has many courses that can be passed by pupils of low ability or low interest in academic material, and it makes an earnest effort to steer the potential failure into them. Second, more attention is being paid to any pupil who does poor work. Often he is studied and the source of his difficulty found be­ fore he fails. As a result, the percentage of

12 failures and eliminations become steadily less."*Another author, Mary Harper, believes that there are at least.two issues to the problem of student failures. Will this child be a better citizen if he is exposed to each grade in school, or will he be a better citizen if we keep him ten years in the first seven grades trying to teach him the three E's and he suddenly realizes he is oversize and age for his group and quits school or develops a bully attitude to cover up his complex.2 The author of the preceding discussion feels that educational science should be an exposure rather than a measurement.

In any case, she is considering the child

himself rather than difficulties facing the school.


attitude is commendable in that children are not considered parts in a factory where you retain the perfect one passing the inspection and discard the faulty pieces.

Yery often

the purpose of the school is lost when only the adminis­ trative difficulties, as concerned with failures, are considered. Still another author, Olga Aehtenhagen, believes that constant attempts to reduce failures and causes of failures is most important.

1 Rinehart

Luella Cole, Psychology of Adolescence (New York: and Company, Inc., 1948), pp. 446-7.

2 Mary Harper, "When Should a Child BeFailed," Texas Outlook, 30:31, February, 1946.

13 Why wait until a pupil fails? Ideally of course one shouldnH. But the first few weeks of school are busy weeks. . There are from forty to fifty homeroom children and 150 classroom pupils the teacher must learn to know, to say nothing of thirty to 100 class­ room study pupils. If for most pupils, we can limit the experience of failure in a subject to the first marking period of the year, we shall feel we have improved the situation as it now exists, and that, after all, is the point at which we must begin.1 Tables I and II indicate the impartial findings of authors concerned with causes or reasons for pupil failures. Table III compares failures in the lower grades with those in the upper grades.

They are significant at this time

in that they represent or coincide with the beliefs of the writers being quoted in this chapter. Many writers concerned with failures in the high school believe that the school should represent a situation very similar to the one in all of life.

That is to say,

failing students should expect the same kind of treatment from the schools as they could expect from a job outside of school in which they also failed.

The idea of course

being that if students are over-protected in the school situation, they will be unprepared for life after school. E. G. Bishop, in writing for the Sierra Educational Mews, made the following comment in connection with this idea: I cannot see how passing all pupils, regardless

^ Olga Achtenhagen, " *Ff is for Follow Up," Clearing House, 23: 147-9, November, 1948.





Percentage of replies

By teachers: Poor attendance Incomplete work Lack of application Incompeteney Poor attitude

72.3 23.2

22.2 16.5 14.6

3S. EUEils:

Lack of interest Improper home conditions Insufficient study Dislike of subject Incomplete work 3j5

77.0 38.0 30.5 30.0 30.0


Farnsworth & Casper, "Study of Pupil Failure in the High School,n School Review, 49:380, May, 1941.


Reason for failure

Number of responses

Number of case studies made

Per cent

Pupils reasons: Dislike teacher** Dislike of subject Laziness Irregular attendance Poor health Poor effort Lack home study Social activities Slow in answering Too much expected

5 4 4 4 4 3 3 3 3 3

5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5

100.0 80.0 80.0 80.0 80.0 60.0 60.0 60.0 60.0 60.0

10 10 8 8 7 5 5 4 4

11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11

90.0 90.0

Teachers reasons: Irregular attendance*** Poor health Poor home conditions Low mentality Lack of interest Poor foundation Teacher inability Poor effort Changes in schools

72.7 72.7 63.6 45 *4 45.4 36.3 36.3

*Lafferty, E. M., "Reasons for Failures,." Educational Administration & Supervision", 24:363> 193#. ♦♦INTERPRETATION: "Dislike teacher" as a reason for pupil failure is listed in all five of-the studies reporting the pupil’s own reason for having failed. ***INTERPRETATION: ’’Irregular attendance" as a reason for pupil failure is listed in ten of the eleven studies reporting the teacher’s reason for the pupil having failed.


TABLE III COMPARISON OF FAILURES IN 9TH GRADE WITH FAILURES IN UPPER THREE GRADES* (INCLUDES SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL WITH 9TH GRADE) Percentage of failures by departments Music Home Economics Art Industrial Art Commerce Social Studies Science Foreign Language English Mathematics All Schools

9 4.6 3.8 1.5 6.8 6.0 8.2 7.1 16.7 9.4 72.1 9.4


Grade 11

12 1.9 2.4 2 ;5 3.7 4.3 6.3 6.8 7.3 7.4 11.7 6.3

*Spears, Harold H., "The H.S. Has Yet to Reach. Its Full Stature,” American School Board Journal, 1 7 :1 9 , March, 1948


** STATISTICS: From November 1, 1947 > Principal’s report to the curriculum office. (Reading this table: 16.7 per cent of all the students who took a Foreign language in the 9th grade failed the course.

17 of attitude or attainment, is altogether a justifiable procedure. The school is certainly not approximating a life situation when this is done for the world does not guarantee success to anyone. In the set-up there should be a definite challenge to call out the best in each individual.1 R. H. Bing takes a similar attitude towards school failures in the following paragraph: Place the student in the grade for which he is best fitted socially and educationally. The only time a teacher is justified in failing a student is when she feels that by so doing she is benefiting the student. I believe that such a philosophy will decrease the number of failures* At the same time it will prevent a student from being promoted and promoted until he reaches a point where he is no longer mentally capable of mastering the work because of something he has failed to learn in previous courses.2 It is difficult to predict just what is best for the individual as far as failures are concerned.

Much of this

depends upon the type of personality the schools wish to turn out.

Many educators believe that students who are

subjected to rather harsh treatment in their formative years will automatically acquire a sour taste for society as a whole.

The student may not be able to accept failure

in light of his past experiences, namely because his ideals are not pliable enough to withstand devaluation.

S. G-. Bishop, "Who Should Fail?” Sierra Educational News, 34:32, September, 1938* 2

R. H. Bing, ”School Failures,” Texas Outlook, 22:14, December, 1938.

18 Undoubtedly some attempt would have to be made to define the purpose of education before an accurate appraisal of failures could be made.

If the schools desire to train

students to comply rigidly with all customs and mores that have been set up by their elders, it is to be expected that those students who meet the requirements will be rewarded and those failing will be condemned.

Under such a program

the individual is not considered highly important.


objective in the minds of the leaders is to train for efficiency in a collective fashion. If the educational system*s purpose is to bring something to the student that will make him enjoy his abilities, those of his fellow students, and to appreciate the opportunities of life, then failures will only play a minor role in the student’s life.

The choice of the two

preceding approaches is largely up to the administration. The attitudes that develop from their choice will be re­ flected in the writings of those persons serving under their selection.

In either case there will be opposing sides.

Again those sides will depend upon the philosophy held by interested persons. The viewpoints of those writers who believe that the school should discard the defective parts of the system in order to assimilate life-like situations has been presented. At this time the viewpoint as held by those against student

19 failure shall be given. Karl C. Garrison is quoted on the problem of student failures. The disregard for individual variation by our school system is the chief reason why so many students are constant failures, academically and emotionally. The mentally and physically inadequate (by school or society*s standards) are all victims of constant failure in their ability to win some sort of acclaim in his actions. An adult can take pleasure in bowling or golf even if he is not too skillful; he soon realizes his limitations. The adolescent, on the other hand, always has a hope, more or less intense, of becoming a champion or a leader. It is more difficult for him, therefore, to accept his role and status in society. Competition and some measure of success temper the adolescent, since they give him facts and ideas that enable him to resolve and interpret his role.1 Leonard B. Irwin, in writing for the Social Studies, believes that the blame for failures should be placed on the teacher and administration rather than on the student.


purports that teachers, when making failure reports, always blame the student for failure.

He also stated in his

article that most schools are content to keep their failures down to ten per-cent.

This, he says, is very poor efficiency

in the school or in any organization.

In summarizing his

report, he made the following statement: Ideally, in a school for all there should be no failures. The school program should recognize that

1 K. C. Garrison, Psychology of Adolescence (New York: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1946), pp.T73-174.

20 among all children of a given age there must be a wide diversity of ability and interest; it should .provide for meeting these.1 A brlef summary of the literature^ viewpoints. The last few pages of this manuscript indicate the wide area of opinions as held by teacher, psychologists, and administrators. It is not the purpose of this project to accept only a part of these views, but to consider all the sides of the question with equal importance and respect. At least one or two benefits are to be found in the consideration of the literature.

They indicate first, that

the student is not entirely to blame for his failures, and second, that effort is being put forth by some competent individuals to do something about the entire problem. Homogeneous grouping is rapidly becoming a part of our progressive educational program to alleviate some of the factors that lead to failures.

Despite the arguments

against such a plan, and they are numerous, schools through­ out the country are adopting some plan or system that offers special instruction to students who fail to keep astride with the class. A close examination of past school records indicates that in most classes, one time or another, there has been

1 L. B. Irwin, "Failures in High School,” The Social Studies, 37:233, 1946.

21 a general retardation of class progress, and individualpupil success.

One main reason being that the teacher has

been attempting to bring up the tail end of the class so to speak, thereby rendering the very capable students static. On the surface it is frequently discovered that education­ ally retarded children do not show evidence of physical, mental, or most other handicaps.

They seem mentally alert

at most times and when progress is halted in the classroom both the parents and the adminstrators wonder why.


a number of years it was generally concluded that progress must be hampered by certain individuals in the classroom although most generally no fault of their own. One serious problem arises when a student is placed in a group which he realizes has been created for those who continually fail in normal classes.

His pride has been

shaken, he feels that he has nothing else to lose.


in spite of this situation, the teacher must find a way to motivate him in a class that he has failed once or twice before.

Under these circumstances, it can hardly be ex­

pected of the teacher to create unhaltered enthusiasm in such a pupil.

The pupil, on the other hand,, will have

little patience with the third prospect of passing the class. All the literature mentioned in this study was pri­ marily interested in finding a solution for student failures. The reasons for such failures varied greatly as to who was

22 responsible and what could be done.

Both, the teacher and

the student were to blame in these reports, in fact society as a whole was held responsible.

From this point, then

this study will make an attempt to evaluate reasons set forth by a new sampling of pupils and teachers for the pur­ pose of discovering new methods to alleviate student fail­ ures in the schools. II.


Most teachers believe that some learning should take place after they have stood before a class hour after hour for a full semester.

When the results of tests and assign­

ments indicate very little comprehension on the part of the student, the teacher tends to lose all patience with the student.

In light of such a poor record the pupil has made,

the teacher decides immediately that the only remedy is to fail that pupil; teach him at least one lessonI If it were assumed from the preceding situation that the teacher was well qualified to teach the subject, worked very diligently in the teaching of the subject, and treated all pupils with equal respect; that teacher still could not justly fail a student.

True, the teacher has given her

complete attention to the class situation, but what has she done to interest the pupil in the back of the room who dispises the subject, and yet has to take it because it is

23 compulsory? Table IV indicates the findings of the present study as concerned with a single public high school.

These find­

ings were extracted from official failure notices to the counselor’s office.

They represent tenth grade pupils only,

and were selected as random samples from more than 200 notices. As Table IV on the following page shows, teachers generally agree that students do not complete the homework assigned to them.

Undoubtedly, many students fail to take

interest in work given them to do outside of class.


reason for this reluctance is the type of over-stimulation young people receive in city such as Los Angeles.


is available to most every boy or girl whether in their own home or at the home of their neighbors.

The entertainment

found here carries on throughout the afternoons and evenings or the time when any homework could be done by the students. Another factor in favor of the teacher’s decision to fail students because of poor home work is the type of entertain­ ment being offered.

Programs on the air and at the movies

are filled with the type of action that appeals to youth. Their ideals are more closely realized when they project themselves into these situations than at any other time. This type of activity is a far cry from the materials presented in a Latin class.




Incomplete work



Poor test results






Changes in schools



Wasting time



Poor home conditions





Major reason given


INTERPRETATION: Out of 64 studies made, 25 teachers said that incomplete work was the major cause for student failure; 24 said poor test scores was the major cause and so on.

25 Several factors in connection with failures given for incomplete work do not support the teacher’s point of view.

One outstanding example of this is the type of work

given to the student and the interest and understanding it holds for him.

It is not uncommon to find a teacher assign­

ing work to students that fit her immediate interests only. Consequently, the teacher assumes that if she is interested in some phase of the subject, the students will be interested also.

Such an assumption is unfortunate because the interest

as held by the teacher comes from a wide area of experience very limited to the pupil in her class who is still in his teens.

In the case of a literature class, the teacher’s

interest has come about through appreciation of the fine art displayed in classical writings.

On the other hand,

the boy on the front row has heard from various members of his gang that such knowledge brings about feminish character­ istics certainly not desired by his crowd.

Ideals, of course,

are not lived up to under these circumstances. The second most important reason given for student failure is undesirable averages on tests given throughout the semester.

This particular reason for student failure

does not lend great support to the teacher’s argument in general.

One factor that partially justifys the teacher’s

action is the little effort put forth on the part of the student to take notes in class and study for periodical

26 examinations.

It is quite evident in most schools that pupils

place little value on preparation for examinations.


this too can be blamed on the teacher for not motivating her elass and justifying the need for ability to complete examina­ tions favorably.

In any case the student generally fails to

show the right attitude towards teacher-made tests. The tests themselves offer very little justification for the teacher’s action in failing students.

Here again,

the interest of the teacher towards specific subject matter comes into the picture.

The tests themselves are usually

based upon teacher interest rather than upon a measure of the pupil's understanding of the subject.

Items for the

test usually come from merely a few areas of the entire amount of material given the student throughout the course or unit.

The testing situation becomes a guessing game

between the pupil and the teacher to see if the correct portions of the material were mastered.

The bright student

soon learns where the teacher's interest lies and studies accordingly.

In short, poor sampling is done in most teacher-

made tests whether they are essay-type, or the new type or objective tests. The scoring of teacher-made tests presents the most difficult problems in this area.

First of all, some method

of scoring is established to ensure some sort of continuity. The current concern of objectivity has arisen from past experience with essay

tests that have proven to be highly

27 unreliable.

Because of this over-concern, it is frequently-

discovered that teachers attempt to construct objective and reliable tests and consequently forget what they are trying to measure.

Also, many teachers set up concrete lines be­

tween two relatively close scores.

That is to say, seventy-

nine represents one full grade lower than a score of eighty. Actually, it would be very difficult to say which of the students receiving these grades is the *’B** and **Cn pupil, Unfortunately, many teachers make this selection readily. The whole question arising from the topie of tests is whether or not the average teacher-made test can be de­ pended upon for a true evaluation of pupil learning, and pupil failure.

If thirty or forty per cent of student

failures is due to the classes* testing program, some effort must be made to determine the validity of this procedure, and an account given as to what can be done to alleviate this major eause of failure. Studies made previously on pupil failure indicates that many teachers believed that irregular attendance or absences were responsible for most failures.

The study in

this particular project does not bear those findings out, however.

This may be due to the immediate school situation

as concerned with this report or any other single report made earlier.

In any case, this factor must be considered

extremely important in that it effects many of the other


reasons directly or indirectly. Data presented in Table Y indicates the principle related reasons for failure as well as the major reason. According to these findings, a large percentage of the teachers blaming failures on incomplete work also blamed the student for wasting time in the classroom.


factor does not necessarily signify lack of motivation on the part of the pupil, but it does mean that many of the questions to be answered on the failure problem exist with­ in the classroom itself.

The student does not always waste

time in class because he is lazy.

If he fails to understand

what is carrying on about him in the classroom situation, he frequently resolves himself to inactivity.

If the material

being covered in the class does not fit the needs and interest of the pupil, he would sooner waste time doing nothing than waste time on a seemingly useless lesson. Teachers blaming poor test results for the major reason for failure often indicated that wasting time in class was a related cause.

Here again, such factors do not

support the teacher’s argument which states that the student is entirely to blame and no one else.

Study questions for

coming examinations do not appeal to the disinterested student.

A meaningless group of test questions is equally

as bad as failure itself so what have they to lose? In order to completely understand teacher reasons





Number of Incom­ Poor responses plete test made work re­ sults

Incomplete work


Poor test results








Change Wasting Ab­ sences in time in schools class

5 3

Changes in schools




Wasting time in class




Poor home conditions





Poor home condi­ tions







INTERPRETATION: Twenty-five teachers stated that "incomplete work" was the major reason for student failure; fifteen of the twentyfive said that "wasting time in class" was a related reason and so on.

30 for pupil failure, it would be necessary to determine the philosophy held by the entire faculty as concerned with failures.

Despite the fact that some teachers would be

more in favor of student failures than others, the general trend towards or away from failures is indicated by the total results of any one particular school1s action on this matter.

When it is found that a great many failures are

given out by the teachers of one grade level, it can be assumed that most of those teachers are agreed upon some definite procedure by which the students should pass or fail.

This method itself is not bad.

In fact such a

method, if properly used, would benefit the students as a whole in the long run.

However, when the philosophy of

that group of teachers calls for rigid requirements in order to pass a history class in the eleventh grade, something has gone wrong with that particular educational system.


light of this philosophy, it could be expected that pupil and teacher reasons given for failure would be altered or distorted.

In such a ease, the pupil could tell you why he

thought that he had failed, but he wouldn*t be too sure of himself.

By the same token, the teacher would indicate her

reasons for giving out so many failures and justify these reasons with her criteria for passing the class. The purpose of this section of the study has not been to cast all the blame upon the teacher.

Such a procedure

31 would indicate prejudice that does not actually exist.


ever, if the whole problem of student failures is to be solved, the teachers must be brought into the picture and their roles as leaders must be weighed.

It is without

doubt that causes for pupil failures come from every im­ portant part of the entire educational system.

The teachers,

the students, and the whole adminstration have some bearing upon the problem.

The homes of the students and parent

attitudes greatly influence pupil success and failure.


this standpoint, the teacher should be willing to assume his responsibility in curing the ills of the school.

He need

not take all the blame for all such ills, however, and he should not be expected to completely remedy them. III.


The views of the pupil vary greatly from those of the teaeher, as could be expected.

They do not tend to

justify their failing marks by stating that they did not perform up to their capacity, but rather, they choose to shift the entire blame upon other circumstances for which they are not responsible.

Rationalization of this sort is

not uncommon in pupils or even adults any where.


it does not answer the problem with which this study is concerned, namely, what is really behind the numerous failure reports that are given out.

32 The main reason for being concerned about the pupil’s viewpoints is the fact that he is the one to suffer the con­ sequences of all the undesirable reports being given.


fortunately, these reports do not stop at the high school, but are frequently carried on by the student throughout his entire life.

Employers are consistently referring to high

school records for a quick analysis of their employee’s past record and capabilities.

In other words, those failure

reports represent evidence in black and white as to what the student has done in the past.

The matter becomes extremely

serious when students must pay up for mistakes that might have been committed by some one besides himself. Students who have failed classes in their high school days do not readily forget them.

Even at the time of the

failure reports when the student realizes that he might not have been entirely at fault, he tends to degrade himself for the failures that he has received.

Later on in life,

the student has no concrete evidence to show that other people may have been at fault and he finally believes it was his own short-comings that caused all the damage.


some cases this type of realization might be all right, but the majority of people would take these failures too ser­ iously and become insecure in all their work and relations with other people.

For this reason, then, the student him­

self must be considered, his judgment on the situation and

33 his feelings towards failures before any conclusions on the problem can be made. Data presented in Tables VI and VII indicate the student’s viewpoints as concerned with major causes of fail­ ures in the school being used in this report.

Here again,

it might be well to bring out that the findings in the particular school do not necessarily represent a crosssection of what is happening in all other schools in the country.

They do, however, bring evidence to show the need

for pupil consideration in discovering some of the major causes of the whole problem. Table VI shows that students do not list only one reason for their failure.

First of all, they have given

the interviewer the major reason they believe they failed a class and then the pupil has brought out what he considers relative reasons.

Such reasons were not figured into per­

centages, but they indicate themselves rather clearly on the chart. The two major reasons most commonly indicated by the students for causing failures is the dislike of the subject and the teaehers.

These reasons of course cast the blame

away from the student himself and on to the teacher and the subject.

If a comparison is made between these two major

reasons given by the pupil, and the two major reasons given by the teacher, (Table I) it is found that very little


Study of 15 boys ’ . Study of 15 tsirls 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 3 9 10 ll 12 13 H 15 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1(5 li 12 I'3 1'4’ IT




No parent cooperation Poorjtest results

x x * *x

Class too difficult*



* x

x x


* x












x x x

Work after school


x x x x x


Improper Lome conditions

Dislike teacher



Too much expected x

Incomplete work


x x x x x


x x x

* *



* * x x

(x)■signifys one of several reasons given by each pupil for their own failure. (*) signifys the major reason given by each pupil for their own failure.



Number of responses

Per cent

Dislikes subject






No parent cooperation



Poor test results



Too much expected



Glass too difficult



Improper home conditions



Incomplete work



Work after school



Dislike teacher


1 6 .6




INTERPRETATION: "Dislikes Subject" was the most common major reason given by the pupil for his failure, or 2 3 .3$ of the total.

compatibility exists between the two groups.

Such findings

tend to support the group giving the reasons in one respect, yet they do not lend too much conclusive information to the problem being considered here. The related reasons given by the students show that too much work is expected by the teachers, hence, failure. Again, such information does not offer sufficient proof to warrant any claims against the teachers.

One thing that all

these related reasons do prove, however, is that most of the difficulty exists within the classroom itself and not outside the school.

For example, only three students out

of the thirty interviewees mentioned factors outside the school that greatly contributed to their failures.

It is

also important to mention that no questions were included in the interviews that would cause the pupil to defend his relations outside the school.

If it is found possible to

limit most of the research to the school situation itself, much has been accomplished. The students accept failure notices given out by the teacher with little emotion at the particular school with which this report is concerned.

Such apathy is due to the

fact that notices of this type are being constantly given out to a large number of pupils.

When a student fails a

class, he is not ostracized by his class-mate because many of them are in the same situation.

In fact, the notice

37 received by the average individual in the class merely represents another slip to be taken home for the parent’s signature.

So many notices have been given to these pupils

that they become negatively adapted to any embarrassment that was once attached to these circumstances. When a student has failed the same class two or three times and has been compelled to take it over and over again, he finally resigns himself to the fact that the only escape for him is when he becomes old enough to quit school and go to work.

If the failure notices were designed to frighten

the students for the sake of getting them to do more work, they have lost their purpose in some school systems.

It is

quite evident that when drastic measures are taken to solve relatively mild problems, the respect and fear of such measures will be ultimately lost.

Many high schools forget

that their students are not attending their institution because of their own choice.

In light of this, the schools

cannot expect the students to fear an iron hand that might mean expulsion, or exactly what this type of pupil would like to happen.

If the schools cannot establish a program

by which they can hold their students for the sake of a desire to learn through cultivated interest, they cannot expect full cooperation and support.

Threats in the way of

numerous failure notices will ultimately amount to a waste of clerical energy on the part of the entire administration.,

38 It is not to be inferred in this study that failures should be abolished entirely.

Such a course of action would

definitely undermine the efforts made by those pupils in the schools that like to work diligently to receive rewards as well as knowledge.

If all students were passed in the class

with relatively equal grades, there would be little incentive to do the work set up by the class.

This situation would be

equally as bad as the one being considered in the present investigation.

Here, as in similar situations, an attempt

must be made to stay close to the middle of the path rather than on the peripheral.

Failures cannot be abolished nor

can they be given out to every one in sight.

Some effort

must be made to control them and make use of their real purpose. Many students faced with failure notices have suggested that some program should be offered by the teachers in lieu of the regular class work if the latter proves too difficult for some of the pupils.

This would mean that the

teacher would have a double load to carry in most of her classes.

However, this type of program could become very

beneficial to the teacher when she wished to have some new materials presented in class.

One student who was very

adept at sketching proposed that he should be allowed to make drawings for all the students in his science class. such a program were undertaken by the teacher, she would


39 have to decide whether or not learning was taking place and whether or not this activity was progressing towards the school's objectives. Little has been said in this study about the relation­ ship between pupil ability and grades.

This of course would

be a study in itself if it were followed through far enough. Judging from the test scores found on the cumulative records in connection with the student’s success, it has been found that equal number of failure report's come from those students with an I.Q,. of over 100 as those under.

This situation

could be the result of two things; namely the homogeneous grouping program of the school where some teachers do not fail all the students in the lower bracket, and the lack of motivation or pupil-teaeher personality clash within the classroom.

When students are found capable of doing the work

prescribed by the teacher and yet fail to accomplish those ends, it presents a serious problem.

Undoubtedly, most pupils

in this category would resent getting the first failure re­ port because they would be able to comprehend its actual meaning.

After they have received two or three of these

notices, however, they would no longer consider them significant at the immediate time. The student himself has certain ideas about the way in which failures should be handled.

He is not concerned

with the administrative problems such as recording the

40 failures, notifying the parents, and filing them, nor does he take much interest in what the teacher thinks about them. His own opinion is based upon facts about himself and his fellow student.

It is quite true that many students never

give the problem a thought, while others may think about it and not care.

This situation is not always the case, however.

When students are questioned seriously on the problem they usually indicate that something should be done.


the ideals of adolescents hold no place for failures. philosophy is one of success and rewards.


Thus, when failures

are brought about in school they feel defeated.

One boy

indicated during an interview that he considered failures to be a necessary evil.

He stated that such notices were the

only answer to a disinterested student’s problem in the class­ room.

He had accepted the belief that an uninteresting class

could not be remedied by anyone.

It was evident of course,

that he knew nothing about motivation or functional methods that can be used to rejuvinate a dull subject. Many of her students are under the contention that a school giving out numerous failures is a good school.


sibly this information was secured from the administration itself indirectly.

To say the least, these students resign

themselves to the fallacy that failures come in large numbers for the good of the pupils themselves.

Essentially the

students have fit themselves to the problem rather than

41 doing anything about it. The pupils complete the triangle with which this study has been dealing.

Namely, the teacher, the litera­

ture part, and finally the student.

Needless to say, most

of the literature supports the student's position rather than that of the teacher.

As far as the teacher herself

is concerned, the literature is too frequently theoretical in its views, thereby eliminating practical aspects that occur within the class itself.

The teacher also indicates

that the pupil1s views are not too important because they amount to a fine piece of rationalization.

The students

themselves know little or nothing about the literature on the subject and even suspect that no one is interested in the whole problem.

They also feel that the teacher is

more mechanical than human mueh of the time and so little concern is felt for the teacher in such matters; after all, it is the teachers who caused all the trouble in the first placeI In spite of all these controversies over the problem, it should be remembered that every person or thing connected to such problems of the schools must be considered important to their solution.

For this reason the students have played

an important role in this particular study even though they do not completely understand the educational philosophy be­ hind their school.

42 The teacher giving out failures in her classes might possibly find some value in talking over the significance of the grade to the student.

Usually the teacher only takes

time enough to add an additional word of warning to the student about the grade.

If she would attempt to find out

what the pupil has to say about the grade, she might gain a new perspective on what an

grade accomplishes.




The purpose of this study in considering the view­ points of the student, the teacher, and the literature, was an attempt to bring out some of the more significant reasons behind unsuccessful pupil perfoimance.

As was expected, the

viewpoints brought out differ greatly.

This situation is

due to the subjective aspects of the materials used.


spite of this, however, certain trends can be seen in light of the data that has been gathered from the three major sources mentioned above. It has been mentioned early in this report that no single source should assume all the responsibility for failures in the schools. emphasized.

This point cannot be over­

The study does indicate, however, that most of

the difficulty lies within the classroom itself thereby making it a dual responsibility for the teacher and the student to work out a solution. The next few pages present' some of the suggestions that seem to have possibilities for alleviating some of the difficulties encountered by the study so far.


will be useful only to the teacher who feels a need for

44 change in present methods of dealing with the problem.


doubtedly, many of these suggestions are being used at the present time, or have proved to be of little value under certain conditions.

In any case, their value is considered

high enough to include them in this report. II.


A pupil’s success in the classroom depends a great deal upon his relationship with the teacher from the social point of view.

If and when personality clashes occur, the

student is generally the one to suffer the permanent results. It is true, however, that teachers can be greatly disturbed by certain individuals in the classroom, but the effects do not lend themselves to a permanent record as does the pupil’s rating.

When a teacher’s personality becomes overbearing

upon the student, emotional resistance is set into play and consequently, little comprehension of class discussions takes place.

Some pupils resent the actions of many teachers

in the classroom.

Others actually fear those same teachers.

A good example of this situation is when a harsh teacher threatens some rough acting boy on the back row with extra class work and additional hardships for all concerned. When this situation is analyzed carefully, it is found that the boy being scolded is not frightened, but some timid, hardworking pupil on the front row who never deserves such a

45 threat does the trembling.

Emotional resistance such as this

within the classroom squelches understanding of subject material.

When an understanding of the subject is absent,

learning cannot possibly take place. Another classroom situation that bears upon the pupilfs success is the method in which, material is pre­ sented in class.

When the lecture method is continually

used the students begin to realize that there is a preacher in their midst.

As a whole, students resent being told what

is right and wrong over and over again. If the teacher wishes to gain support from the class she must never talk down to them and above all, refrain from considering them youngsters.

These desirable goals

set up by the teacher are difficult to achieve when the teacher does all the talking and planning.

The teacher

must realize that cooperation gives the student a decided advantage when the grades are given out. It is very important for any school system to account for individual deviations among the pupils.

Some students

may deeply enjoy active participation in the classroom, but others wish to contribute their part in another way such as bringing materials into class from their home or place of work that could be used as audio-visual aids.

It is un­

fortunate when the teacher makes all the students respond in the same way.

When this occurs, the teacher can expect

46 to have a wide distribution of grades in the class.


addition to this, the teacher must not allow her procedure to become steriotyped by the students.

If pupils know that

a certain teacher performs before the class much in the same manner year after year without adding anything different or new they will have little motivation in the class.


in the classroom procedure, then, becomes as important as the material being presented. III.


The teacher should foster pupil relationships among themselves whenever possible.

It is often found that bright

students held down by slow class progress can become inter­ ested through helping a slower student.

This help is fre­

quently beneficial to the slow student in addition to giving the bright student something to do.

Such a course of action

has to guard itself against resentment on the part of the dull student, and he must not become over dependent upon help, but the talented teacher can readily modify these difficulties if and when they do occur. The teacher must also guard against social roles forced upon unfortunate members of her class.

For example,

students of poor families should not be persecuted because of their dress, or exceptional children with speech or bodily defects should not be ridiculed.

Experiences of

47 this sort greatly increase friction within the class, and consequently, it makes the teacher*s job twice as difficult. On the other extreme, cliques should be discouraged for they destroy any class cooperation that might have come about otherwise. Whenever possible, the teacher should participate in recreational activities for her classes.


of this sort stimulates growth in the pupil in and out of school.

Those students unable to impress the teacher in

the classroom might possibly prove to her that talents otherwise not' known are present.

To say the least, the

student has done more good for himself than harm in the eyes of the teacher when he proves himself capable of doing something well. The suggestions brought forth in the previous page or two do not seem significant to the teacher as far as student failures are concerned.

In spite of this, however,

it is the contention of this study to assume that a student who is well adjusted in the classroom both to the teacher and to other students has a better chance of succeeding than otherwise.

Failures do not necessarily denote poor

test grades, or incomplete homework.

Many teachers con­

sider the attitudes of the pupil and his effectiveness in the classroom equally as important as the work itself and thereby grade according to this method of pupil appraisal.

48 IV.


Finally, the teachers generally concluded that poor classroom performance was the result of poor test grades and assignments.

This situation would seem to indicate

that there .exists a weakness in the teaching program in light of the number of failures given out. in one grade, namely, 200 of them.

If a large percentage of relatively

average students are failing, something must be wrong with the program.

Here-again,- it is up to the teacher to al­

leviate the problem at hand.

The entire blame cannot be

placed on the teacher regardless of where the trouble exists, but they must carry the greater part of the re­ sponsibility since the pupils are not mature enough to evaluate all the aspects of the problem.

Progress is being

made by most teachers today which is a good indication that students are being recognized as individuals.

Most im­

portant is the fact that teachers and administrators recog­ nize the problem and are beginning to do something about it. Whether or not the student will profit by this effort is uncertain, never-the-less, it is a step in the right direction.


A. BOOKS Baker, H. I., Introduction to Exceptional Children. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947* 496 pp. Cole, Luella, Psychology of Adolescence. New York: Rinehart and Company, Inc., 194$. pp. 446-7. Garrison, K. C., Psychology of Adolescence. New York: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1946. pp. 173-17^. Leonard-Eurieh, An Evaluation of Modern Education. York: The Macmillan Co., 1927. 351 pp.


Yoakam, H. J., Modern Methods and Techniques of Teaching. New York: Harcourt', Brace & Co., 1927. 345 pp. B.


Achtenhagen, Olga, " 'F' is for Follow Up,” Clearing House, 23:147-9, November, 1946. Bing, R. H., "School Failures," Texas Outlook, 22:14, December, 1936. Bishop, E. G., "Who Should Fail?" Sierra Educational News, 34:32, September, 1936. Burr, M. Y., "Study of Homogeneous Grouping/in Terms of Individual Variation & The Teaching Problem," Contribution to Education, 457, 1931. Farnsworth & Casper, "Study of Pupil Failure in the High School,” School Review, 49:3&0, May, 1941. Harper, Mary, "When Should a Child Be Failed," Texas. Outlook, 30:31, February, 1946. Irwin, L. B., "Failures in High School," The Social Studies, 37:233, 1946.

50 Lafferty, E. M., "Reasons for Failures," Educational Administration and Supervision, 24:363', 193$. Spears, Harold H., "The H.S. Has Yet to Reach Its Full Stature," American School Board Journal, 17:19, March, 19kW.