A forum for discussing what's working -- and what isn't -- in standards and assessments.

Should teachers assign marks of zero for students?

David Wees Learning Specialist: Technology for Stratford Hall

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the practice of assigning a zero for incomplete, late, or missing work after an Edmonton Teacher was suspended for failing to follow his school's assessment policy (which stated that students should not receive zero for an assignment).

I am personally of the opinion that we need to rethink many of the ways in which we do assessment. For some background reading on where I stand on the whole zeroes issue, I recommend reading some of the posts on John Scammell's blog. http://thescamdog.wordpress.com/

There are a lot of alternatives to our grading system. Can you imagine a different system than the one we use? Imagine that time, money, and logistics are not an issue (these can often be resolved later). What would you do differently?

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NBCT, science educator

Zero is an option....

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Before I tell you why zero is an option, let me first explain my grading system [based on applying ideas from Guskey, Wormeli, Stiggins, & Reeves]

*all grades in my course are standards referenced
*95% of the grade is based on summative assessments linked to these learning objectives
* an even distribution scale is used

Using this system, a "0" is an option because a student can still recover. I use a number of strategies [deadlines, checkpoints, 1:1 interventions, etc] to prevent zeros from being issued yet sometimes these interventions are not effective when students demonstrate ineffective life skills. This is why 5% of their grade represents demonstrating of 21 Century Skills [based on P21 and Metri criteria]. Since moving to this grading system, the grade being reported fully represents what was learned. I have been using this system for 4 years now, and the consensus from students and parents is why don't more teachers change their grading and assessment practices to reflect learning?

Building Confidence in Students, One Child at a Time

Thanks for the post!

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Thanks for the post! I totally agree with you that we need to rethink about this matter of allotting zero marks for students. There can be many other ways of assessments. I believe instead of allotting marks to students, giving grades can be a better option. The lowest grade could be D which would would indicate below 4,out of 10. Grading system is far more better then giving allotment of marks.

NBCT, science educator

Rethinking grading

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The big question that should be answered is, what does a grade represent? Some feel it should represent academic achievement, some believe that it should represent behavior, others both. When we took our drivers test, did the score include what we wore that day? The smell of our breath? The selection of air freshener? Or the music station? The score only represents our performance on set criteria not the "other stuff." What is it about education that some in our profession feel it is important to mix academic factors with non academic criteria?

8th grade English in traditional classroom -- 9th grade English online

A few years ago I adopted the

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A few years ago I adopted the concept of failure not being an option - unless student just does no work.. This came from a couple of popular prof dev books. My lowest grade is 50% if a student turns in something. This allows them to climb out of a hole if they dig one.

Problem - I am only one doing it so my grades look inflated and high school does not like it because student won't have that throughout high school.

I hate grades - the 50% practice has helped but I would love to give that up too.

NBCT, science educator

Giving 50% for doing "0" Work

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Tammy all you have done is changed the "traditional" 100 point grading scale to an even distribution scale so that the effect of a "0" is increased to 50%. What is the impact of such a strategy? I believe it may send the student a wrong message, learning nothing and still get rewarded. I agree with you, you are inflating reporting academic achievement instead of holding students accountable for the work they do not do. Some of my high school students expect me to continue such practices in my classroom yet they quickly realize that if they do not do the work, there is consequences. All work I assign is important, so important that I have them come in for to do the "work" on their free time. Once they complete the "work," I provide feedback for full credit. Many expect me to reduce their grade yet this isn't the way I work. My students quickly learn that I need them to do the work so I can support their learning and if this means working with me 1:1 at lunch or after school, then so be it.
It is easy giving credit for work not done yet is this our role as educators? If the "work" is so important than shouldn't we make a valiant effort to ensure the work gets done so we can better understand where our students are in the learning process?

I know the strategy I share may take more time, may mean you have to re-teach, or even mean you will have to slow down your pace of your instruction yet this is what it means to create a environment of learning and responsibility. Once your students see how much effort you make to ensure work is completed, they will be more willing to support your efforts to educate them.

I'll leave on of my favorite student quotes "I'm doing the work because I know if I don't, you will climb up the tallest mountain, swim the deepest ocean to make sure I turn it in- 0's are not an option in this class."

Teacher, Writer, and Artist

THE POWER OF ZERO. THE POWER OF NOTHING

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From my archives of writing about what goes on in my classrooms ...

Of the two dudes who made Ds … it turns out they didn’t turn in the two essay projects, so that gave them a zero in the grade book, and just a single zero on an assignment will pull your grade in a direction that gets the attention of parents, mee maws and paw paws, teachers, and principals real good. For a weird kind of Christmas break scientific teacher research, I just went into the grade book and punched in a C … or a 75 … in each of the assignment boxes for the two essays for both of them … and with those easy grades they would have both made Bs for the fall semester in Georgia History. Now that’s heartbreaking. I nagged. I pleaded. I really and truly ache about these two sometimes …most of the time, really … Winx and Herman. The power of zero, gentlemen. It'll devastate your grade. The power of nothing. It’s for real.

www.adixiediary.com

8th grade English in traditional classroom -- 9th grade English online

I don't publicize that

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I don't publicize that I am doing the 50% as F. I show the real grade in the gradebook w/ a note on the side. Thus, they don't take advantage of the situation. Like I said - the biggest advantage is their ability to get out of a hole if they get into one. Also - the amount of work I put into a lesson does nothing for the number of students who do their homework.
There are no consequences for grades in middle school.
What is the reality of a 0?? The student did absolutely nothing.If we go to where the student is and bring him/her to usversus telling him to just do what he is told and learn up to the point where I am somehow. That is the reteaching, etc. Right or wrong ---- I don't see the benefit of grades. Now I do see the difference in my 9th grade classes.

Great discussion!

NBCT, science educator

Publicize it, make grading practices transparent.......

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I agree, this has been a grade discussion. Why aren't grading and reporting methods transparent? If you want to empower your students, educate them on how you determine their grades. After doing this with my students, they became aware of effective/non effective grading practices and in essence they became their own advocates. Why don't most teachers share this information? Is there a fear of being scrutinized? Or is it that they do not want to give up this power? If parents and students were informed with this information, better communication could take place in relation to academic growth and performance.

The reality of a ZERO, is that a ZERO means nothing. Zero is a numerical value which in the classroom can represent many things such as, "Had no idea" "Did not understand," "Did not turn in." "Did not meet rubric criteria," etc. in my case, a zero means I have to begin an intervention to determine the source of under performance. As much as I don't like zero's, I also need to honor the decisions students make. For instance, I had a student miss a deadline for a major project. When I asked him why he did not turn in the project, he said he failed to "manage his time due to football." In life, you miss a insurance premium, you face being denied coverage. You miss your tax bill, you can get fined. 0's can be teaching tools to help students learn life skills. In this case, I gave the student an opportunity to do the work if he submitted an explanation on why he mismanaged his time and he also had to create an action plan to address this life skill deficiency. A student has to go through a lot of work to clear a zero but at least there is hope. As long as I have time in a grading period to use this strategy, a zero can be replaced.

I agree grades are artificial yet we live in a society where grades are treated like "currency." The problem with this "currency" is there are "thousands of denominations" and "exchange rates." Standardization of grading and reporting practice may not take place in my life time but at least we can have a professional discussion on the subject. I use practices which are pedagogically sound, fair to all students, and research informed. These practices are continuously refined undergo continuous change.

do not fully reflect what was learned or understood.

English Teacher - High School

Zero Option

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I have been struggling of late with the power of zero. Mario Patino notes the importance of transparency with students and the necessity of advocating life skills beyond the classroom. Within the first week of classes, I discuss grading and what a zero means. It means you didn't do the assignment at all. It means you didn't complete an assignment (this applies to homework only) - which prevents me from knowing where an issue may be occurring.

Homework is the only assignment on which a zero reflects a lack of completion. Why? Students often fail to follow directions. Students often feel confused or unsure so they give up rather than make an attempt to show how they understand it. Students seem to have little coping skills - if something is hard, they just don't bother - that does not equate to success. Of all assignments, homework is the one in which you can get it wrong and still get credit for it. Its purpose is to show me how they are thinking so I can understand where they are going astray. This is explained fully to them and consistently reinforced. For many students, this works and they do give it their best shot. For others, well, those are the students who don't do homework, or projects, or essays, or other major assessments.

I cajole, I discuss, I intervene, I support these struggling students because their lack of work often reflects other issues at play. In the end, as Patino says, they must learn that doing nothing has consequences, not just in the classroom but in life in general. I discuss the impact on life after school with my students and we talk about the behaviors of success. Don't like a subject, you still push yourself to pass it - why? Because everyone has parts of a job they don't like, they still do it. Successful people do it well, because they know every effort counts.

In the end, homework and classwork account for a small portion of the grade, while assessments are the major measuring stick. You can pass my class without doing any homework (chances are, however, that the other grades won't be great - a lack of practice leads to a lack of success), but I often find that zeros for homework reflect low grades on assessments - and the students see that as well.

Finally (I'm sorry I've been long-winded), I work in a district which does not allow quarterly grades (for the first 3 quarters of the year) to be below a 40 - thus offering students a chance to "bounce back." I've had students with an average of a 6, but had to change their grade to a 40. I've also worked in schools where the student could turn in work at any point in the year and you had to grade it (I had a student once turn in three major projects right before our April vacation and I had to take the projects with me to grade them - they were all due prior to our December break). How is this fair or reasonable? Where in life will they be given this kind of option again? While our focus may be academics, pre-college teachers also have to instill professional behaviors of success - you cannot separate them. It is the last place students can learn these behaviors without a cost to their future or pocketbook.

NBCT, science educator

Lets grade the baby who is learning how to walk.......

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Quote:

Where in life will they be given this kind of option again? While our focus may be academics, pre-college teachers also have to instill professional behaviors of success

You raise some interesting topics Michael. Again, all grading is based on personal philosophy. Some give grades as a form of feedback, others give numbers, percentages, smiley faces, check marks, stickers, or time stamps. I choose to work with the student, provide written or oral feedback so that they can better understand what we are learning. Of course this takes time but the reward is much greater than the effort it takes to employ this strategy.

If you believe that grades should represent what was learned and understood, can you honestly give a grade within the learning cycle when students are still trying to understand what you are teaching them? I know there is some in the profession that feel that "my students won't do the work unless I grade it" this is a major misconception. If you teach students to value the work they are given they will do it. Most don't do my homework assignments when they don't understand the directions or I haven't given them enough support in the classroom to complete the work at home. Reflective practice ensures how you respond to the needs of your students, if you are not doing this, there is a high chance they will not do the work you asked them to do.

I agree with you Michael we [educators] need to teach and model life skills. Not all situations in life are based on deadlines, not all life situations require that we turn in "stuff" on time. We are dealing with adolescent youth who do not think like adults [How can they when critical sections of the brain are still growing]. If you [educator] are not willing to spend some time to model these skills, expect such behavior to be demonstrated. It [behavior] is just as natural as tripping over your feet when you are still learning how to walk. Should we grade babies when they are struggling to learn basic cognitive and motor skills?

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