Yes, Students Can Fail Art!

I am a firm believer that, yes, students can fail art. In fact, it frustrates me when I hear someone inquire, “How does one fail art? That’s impossible, right?”

No, it is not impossible. Students fail art just like they fail any other class.

Maybe they don’t do the work. Maybe they do the work but do it poorly and without effort. The work might be rushed, sloppy, and uninspired. They might not turn things in or leave projects incomplete without a request for extra time. Students might even intentionally sabotage the work of another student or damage supplies.

Often, it’s some combination of these that leads a student to fail my class. And although I’ve heard both teachers and parents ask how students fail my class, I’ve never had a student wonder.

That’s because a failing student is never in the dark about their pending “F.” They know they can turn it around at any time and they know I will be there to help them do so.

poster that says "We Can Pass Art!"

Students need to know where they stand, especially if they’re failing.

A student’s grade should never be a mystery to them. Prior to the beginning of each project, it’s a good idea to review expectations using the project’s rubric. Be sure to communicate with all your students about where they stand in terms of expectations, grades, and growth.

Be especially aggressive in communicating with failing students. Seek them out personally to deliver failing grades. This allows for a conversation about what needs to happen next to repair the damage. The hope is the one-to-one interaction demonstrates you care enough to make time for them. It shows you are invested in their improvement. Sometimes a little attention and encouragement is all that’s needed to turn things around.

It’s also important to enlist parents to help.

In my room, I contact parents and encourage them to send their child in for tutoring or at lunch time in order to complete work or get help. I send photographs of incomplete work or rubrics and write personal notes to students about how to improve their grades.

quote about failure

At the end of the day, we can’t fail them. They fail themselves.

No decent teacher wants students to fail, but passing a class is a two-way street. We should make every effort to help our students, but they also have to do their part. Ultimately they must be an active participant in their success.

In short, passing art class is not a passive act.

It requires effort, application, creation, and perseverance… and that goes for the teacher, too! You need to be tireless in your efforts to assist failing students. Expect parents and administrators to grill you when the “F” finally appears on that report card. They will want proof of your indefatigable efforts, so keeping good records is a must.

Failure IS an option – but through personal conversations, parental intervention, and opportunities for improvement hopefully students will choose to turn it around!

Has a student ever failed your class? How?

Do you feel that lack of natural ability creates an easy excuse for failure in the eyes of students and/or parents?

Lee Ten Hoeve

Lee is an energetic PreK - 8th-grade art educator in an urban district. She’s passionate about making art a core subject and employing curiosity to engage learners. 


  • Mr. Post

    When I taught middle school and high school a few students chose to fail despite my earnest efforts to prevent this from happening.

    I had a policy where a kid could turn in ANY missing art work until the cutoff day – about two days before report cards were due. A teacher friend of mine at the time told me I would be deluged with projects on that day. It never happened – a few kids would turn in things but it was not a deluge.

    My reason for this policy was that when I had conferences with parents who could not believe that their child failed art, I would show them all of the attempts I made to get the kid to turn in work. And when I told them that the kid had up until the last minute to turn in any late work, they quickly realized the responsibility for failing art fell squarely on their child’s shoulders.

    • Lee Ten Hoeve

      I agree, this is the way to go Mr. Post. I have the same policy about improving or handing in late work. The goal is for them to do the work, to benefit and learn from doing it… whenever that happens. Patience is a virtue, especially when working with children and young adults. If the student never even starts the assignment, you’ve both lost. At least if they eventually get around to it, you might spark something.

      • Lela

        I feel like effort in art is never wasted, so if they’re late, they still did it. It may not have been on my schedule, but they did it. It’s why I have this same policy, they can turn in anything up until finals.

  • BossySnowAngel

    Yes. I have had students fail my class. But doing so was a deliberate act on their part. I have never had a student who showed up, worked hard and sincerely made an effort, fail. I offer make-up times, extra credit for trips to the museum and more. But this past semester I had a senior make a 14 in my class. I offered the student every chance to make up work up until the last day of the term. He would tell his parents he turned in everything, but I never saw a single completed piece. Parents, counselors and administrators were notified to no effect. I think it’s better for them to take an attitude and fail now, in high school, than to do so a thousand miles away.

  • Lauren Petiti

    I have trouble accepting when students fail; I worry that it looks like I’m doing something wrong. I have made a bargin with my students: if they turn work in on time and it looks like they at least attempted to follow the directions, they will never receive below a 60% on a project. They seem to appreciate that, and though it still doesn’t get 100% turn in rate from people, I feel more comfortable about explaining why students are failing.

    • Lee Ten Hoeve

      I understand the conflict Lauren. If the attempt was earnest, they deserve to pass in my opinion as well.

  • Kris S.

    We have progress reports going out soon, I made up “these assignments are missing” sheets and gave my students a catch-up day. Even with that and knowing that grades were coming up I have 17 who have not turned in more that 1 or 2 assignments in 3 weeks and are failing. We have 2 grades a week. Bellwork, which equates to daily sketchbook prompts and either a project or progress on a project grade. I am really disappointed and it really bothers me there were so many who refuse to even try.

    • Jan Oxendale

      I understand what you are saying, Kris. I have been at my school for a year and a half now. The previous art teachers left becuase of the disrespect of the students. They did not have a teacher that stuck around for 3 or 4 years. I’ve heard that the former art teacher allowed them to go outside and play! The middle school students I teach are used to not working in art. I have been told to have high expectations and hold students accountable. I do. If I have tried to get a student to finish and turn in work and they don’t, they get an F. At the start of the year, I decided to give them points daily for meeting the objective. There are student who don’t care. There are parents who don’t care. I here from students, “Its only art.” My only option may be to wait out the exit of my current middle schoolers. I don’t have any problems with the younger ones.