A few years ago, one of the 11th grade students in my neighborhood came to my door beaming. He couldn't wait to show me the research paper he had written and the big 100% written on it. Actually, the front of the research paper had 100/100/100/80.
Skeptical, as usual (...come on! Who makes a 100% on a research paper??!!), I proceeded to flip through the paper. As I suspected, the paper was full of grammar and structural errors--incomplete sentences, misplaced punctuation, lack of capitalization, and many other mistakes. Yet he had received three 100's and one 80. I have no idea what any of those scores were for...there wasn't a single mark throughout the entire paper. There was no rubric for a guideline. Nothing.
Though I hated to burst his bubble, I felt the obligation to tell this teenager that his work wasn't 100% work. As I suspected, a year later as I walked him through the process of registering for El Centro, I had to break the news to him again. His scores on the Placement test determined that he needed all three developmental courses (Reading, Writing, and Math) before he could even enter college. I explained that he was going to have to work extremely hard to catch up. I explained that it wasn't impossible, but it would take a lot of effort.
Why don't people realize that these inflated compliments are hurting our urban, inner city kids???
In our After-School Academy we always make the kids correct their work--erasing the entire page if they wrote sloppy or didn't do it correctly. Way too often I hear them say, "It doesn't matter. My teacher doesn't care." I emphatically tell them, "Well, it matters to me. Correct it!" Sometimes I'm harsh. Sometimes we get tears. But I love seeing the pride of a kid who gets to the point of knowing they can do something...and knowing they did it well.
Our kids deserve so much better...and they are perfectly capable if we would stop giving them empty praise because we feel sorry for them. It's not fair to them. It sets them up for failure. Some of them have mentioned their confusion of why they make A's in class, but then can't pass the TAKS. We're not doing them any favors. (Read here for a recent study on praise.)
Do them a favor. Expect something out of them. Praise their effort, encourage them to keep working, and work with them to help them get to where they need to be...but don't feed them false praise.
We will all benefit in the long run.