06/12/2012 10:01 am ET Updated Aug 12, 2012

It's the End of the School Year -- Have Pity

So this is the time of year when I always get asked to give students a D instead of an F.

Usually they make the request with a smile, like they are kidding, but I know that they are actually hoping.

I am referring to counselors, administrators, sometimes even other teachers. No one wants to witness failure -- especially the kind of senseless failure of a student whose self-destructive impulses get the better of him. "He's really trying," I am told. "He already got into college! What a shame if he couldn't go."

Right -- but also what a shame if he goes and doesn't succeed because he's not ready because we never held him accountable.

I always feel a little like a hypocrite saying that. I wasn't a very good student in high school. My greater concern now, though, is that there is a student somewhere on a waiting list to inherit the spot vacated by my senioritis-stricken student and if that wait-listed student deserves the spot and is more likely to live up to the opportunity, then maybe he or she really ought to have it.

Sometimes students will plead their own case. Some plead humbly. Others plead with brazen entitlement. Give me one more chance. Just one more chance. You've only given me five or six or 10 second chances. How about just one more. Just one!

"What's the last day you accept late work?" I've been asked.

"Who says I accept late work?" I want to ask, but the student already knows I'm soft -- that I've let students turn in last week's assignment and sometimes even last month's for partial credit.

It is difficult not to do that with high school students. This isn't college. In high school, if a student has made it mathematically impossible, at some point in the term, to reach 60 or 70 percent, we're still supposed to provide meaningful instruction for that student and it's a little difficult to do that when the student has no chance of passing.

Perhaps making a student sit through a class he cannot possibly pass -- because he didn't do what he was supposed to do in the first place -- is in itself meaningful instruction, but it is also a prescription for a classroom management problem.

That is how grading becomes a relativistic proposition -- and once that happens it is easy to find ourselves in the final weeks of school being asked to make exceptions.

So where's the harm in a pity D?

Actually, it won't get the college-bound off the hook. Universities don't accept D's so that student either has to find a way to make up the class over the summer or go to community college and give up his seat to a more deserving student.

With a D the student can put on the cap and gown and his parents can cheer -- and hopefully not get arrested for it. Giving a D means one less non-graduate on the school's report card. It saves the school district the funds it costs to provide a summer school or adult school class for the recalcitrant student. And in the current fiscal climate, those funds are in very short supply.

It isn't as if we have to worry that we might be graduating someone who cannot read or write or calculate. At least not in California, where all high school students must pass a 10th grade level test in order to receive a diploma.

So, then, are there any reasons not to give a pity D?

Integrity, perhaps. (This is an inner-city public high school. Integrity? Yeah, right!)

Teaching real-world responsibility to our students (They'll learn soon enough -- soon as they forget to pay a bill or fail to meet the expectations of a job.)

All right, I'm sold. All right, then, no real harm in a pity D...

...So, all right, now that we've established that, how about a sympathy C?