Why Power of "I"

Power of “I” – for those of you who don't know what this is – it is the Power of the “Incomplete”.

Why do we use this program at Jerome Middle School? Why do we give students a “second chance” to complete and redo? Why don't we just “give” them zeros and “F”s if they don't get it right the first time? I heard many of these questions from parents at last week's parent/teacher conferences. Some were confused at the difference between an “I” and an “F”. They were confused as to why we would allow students to “redo” – they (the parent) didn't get to and it was just fine for them(that is a quote from one mother).

So, why Power of “I”………

I first heard of this concept from an educator named Toni Eubanks at a Hight Schools that Work/Making Middle Grade Work Summer conference. I went to her session looking for ways to motiviate students, and came out with an “aha” – we can't let students take the easy way out.

It has taken us many years to realize it, but students do not learn in the same manner, or at the same rate. We present a concept – plan an engaging lesson – have students practice said concept – assess the students – then find out some of them just didn't “get it.” We need to move on for those who did; but, we also need to allow those who didn't a chance to learn

that concept. Power of “I” does just that. It doesn't allow a student to just take a zero on a project – that “I” remains until they complete it – and complete it in a manner that demonstrates they truly understand the concept. The old way of giving a zero for not done assignments, or an F and moving on, did nothing for the learning of the student. Nor did it tell the teacher anything about what the student truly knows and can do.

Some students do not do well on “tests”. At JMS, staff also have begun utilizing Standards Based Grading. Tests are broken down by standard/objective – students must show mastery on each section of that test. They receive an “I” on any section that didn't show mastery – students have the opportunity to redo. Sometimes that means being retaught by the teacher; sometimes it means demonstrating the concept through writing; sometimes it means additional practice before redoing the test.

At JMS we believe that all our students can learn – Power of “I” ensures that. Teachers identify what I call the “by-Gods” (excuse me) – these are the critical concepts that all students show know and be able to do before moving to the next level. These “By-God” are what teachers focus “I” assignments around. “I”s are not given for “practice” – they are given for “summative” assessments that demonstrate knowledge during and after a unit of instruction. Sometimes those assessments are in the form of a test while others are projects students complete.

So why Power of “I”? Because we have high expectations for students – we expect and give them the support needed to reach those expectations.



  1. This is important and applicable; I’d love to work to move my school in this direction.

    When Tony Wagner, author of the Global Achievement Gap and Professor at Harvard Ed. School, was speaking to my faculty last spring, he implored them to reconsider and drop the A-F scale. Instead, he urged that the only grades we should use should be A’s, B’s, and I’s. If you haven’t done the work well enough to demonstrate sufficient mastery in a skill area, we shouldn’t close the book on your learning that skill, we should leave it open until you have.

    Thanks for sharing the “power of I”– a concept I am going to remember and seek to better practice in the future!

    October 17, 2010
    • Jan Bell said:

      I’m sorry, but I have dealt with this program here in New Mexico. I am a college faculty member, and I see the results of this program every semester. It is a really good thought to make all students feel like they can succeed, but what I saw this program do is teach the students procrastination and no responsibility. Maybe it was the way it was implemented, but it is really sad the number of students coming into college who can’t do simple math, or read. They have no concept of study skills either. They don’t understand the concept that they must do their assignments when they are due in college. There are no second chances. Yes, we do give “Incompletes,” but only if the student has met the criteria to receive one. There are no second chances if you just don’t do your work at your job either. I feel like what I am seeing of the students coming into college that we are really letting them down. Students are being awarded for doing nothing and just pushed out of the High Schools. Yes, I am old school, but it is really sad. My daughter has a Masters Degree in Math and is teaching in a Middle School here in New Mexico. They implement something like this and she is ready to quit and she has only been teaching for 3 years. She has no control over the classroom as far as repercussions for the students not doing their work. She came out of college with the hope that she could make a difference, and she can’t because she has no say. Students come out of school thinking, “oh well, if I don’t do it, no big deal. I get do-overs!” This is the wrong attitude to be teaching young minds. Most of them have no discipline, no responsibility, and just generally don’t care. Then you have the students who do care, and I hear this every semester also. These students saying that they are tired of working hard to make “A’s” for scholarship opportunities and there are students in their same classes passing and not doing any of the work. It is really sad. I hope enough people care enough about the students to speak up and stop programs like this. Put discipline and responsibility back in the classroom, and not just on the teachers!

      February 10, 2013
  2. Chris Wejr said:

    To tie in to Jonathan’s comments, I agree with the idea of an “I” but why is it only offered to students that have not yet passed? It is no secret that I would like to see letter grades and percentage disappear, but in the meantime, why not offer and “I” to anyone that believes they can do better?

    In BC, students cannot be given an F without being given an I first. About 7 years ago, one of my PE students went on a trip – we had a policy that missed classes were to be made up and offered a variety of activities. She declined to do the make up activities by the end of term so instead of giving her a B, I offered her an “I” with the chance to make up the classes to get the A. (I realize now the problem with motivating with letter grades but it is just an example how we can extend Janet’s thoughts beyond the I vs F debate). It was difficult for her to understand that the I did not mean she had failed and could make up some work. Are we not always “incomplete” in the fact that we are always on the journey?

    Thanks, Janet, for providing some insights on how to move forward and help students in the grade-driven system in which we all teach.

    October 18, 2010
  3. David Truss said:

    I love the concept of A, B or I, that Jonathan mentions above. I first saw it at an International school I was thinking of applying to about 6 or 7 years ago, (I think it was in southern Thailand?). It has stuck in my mind ever since!

    The BC, Canada curriculum is based on PLO’s or Prescribed Learning Outcomes. We create assignments to make sure that students can demonstrate the required outcomes. Teachers create the assignments and the deadlines, but really none of the outcomes in our curriculum say, “This outcome must be met by the 3rd week in October”… so technically, the only reason to give someone a failing mark rather than an ‘I’ is because the course is over and there is no longer any chance of demonstrating the learning outcomes have been met.

    October 22, 2010
  4. Jen Von Iderstein said:

    This happens in some colleges. I know that I received an I in one of my courses last spring, because my write up of experiences was lost in the mail. My professor knew I had mailed it because we spoke on it during a meeting to discuss my internship hours. I’s are nice for even your bright students who normally have it together but, occasionally forget something or rush through something because of time constraints of life.

    October 22, 2010

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