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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11th and 12th grade English teacher from Shepherd, Montana

Working harder fro a 0

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So many interesting ideas-I have a few comments.

The concept of only going to a "D" seems faulty. I do not believe we should accept or allow D's or F's. In a standards world if C is proficient, what is a D? Nearing proficiency? So that is good enough to move on? Our district has grade checks that are followed by reward days for those in academic good standing. Last year we redefined good standing as C or better. We simply could not accept telling students a D is OK. In the real world a D at your job means you are the first to go when the cuts come.

As for 0's. I see what many are saying-they are a death blow to grades, yet some kids simply make bad choices. Many solutions come from reevaluating homework practices. I tell my students I will not give them homework every night; however, what I give them is critical for both of us and I want it done. If they do not, they receive a completion contract (See O'Connor's How to Grade for Learning). Parents have to sign the contract, the assignment is done, full credit is given. 60% of my students who receive one never receive a second (parent pressure???). Failing that completion, they receive detention to do the assignment to do it with me and receive 50%. If they don't show up they are written up for insubordination and they receive Friday school and a 0-there is really nothing else I can do at that point. They earn their 0's just as they earn their 90's.

We also have several interventions in place that help. If a student has little home support, therefore the contracts don't work, they go to a support room during intervention time. I also have open session during intervention if the reason for the assignment not being done was academic (sadly it rarely is).

HS Mathematics and MS/HS Pre-Engineering teacher, from South Louisiana

I agree with David Wees and

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I agree with David Wees and highly recommend checking out John Scammell's blog - he has some great ideas! http://thescamdog.wordpress.com/

Unfortunately, our on-line grading program automatically assigns a grade of "zero" when "Inc" is selected - if left ungraded, it's too easy to overlook that requirement. I will recommend that our program be changed to report "Incomplete" whenever an assessment has not been completed since that's much more reflective of the current grade status.

For me, the issue of reporting regular homework grades posed a problem - some students rarely, if ever, do math "Home Learning Assignments." To avoid recording zero grades, I give a single "Class Work / Home Work" grade for each lesson - that way, students can still earn up to half of their points just for coming to class, participating in class activities, and completing the "U-Dos" during class (increases in-class engagement for some, but there are still those who choose to do little to nothing). At least that way, a "zero average" in "Work Ethic" will not sabotage their overall average. However, I'm left with the problem of motivating those students who choose to do nothing most of the time . . . then the problem becomes one of external motivation rather than one of grades!

So, now I'm on my way to go read about student engagement and student motivation . . . again - I'm always in search of ways to get my students involved in their own education / learning.

HS Mathematics and MS/HS Pre-Engineering teacher, from South Louisiana

Grades vs Motivation & Engagement

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I agree with David Wees and highly recommend checking out John Scammell's blog - he has some great ideas! http://thescamdog.wordpress.com/

Unfortunately, our on-line grading program automatically assigns a grade of "zero" when "Inc" is selected - if left ungraded, it's too easy to overlook that requirement, so I am left recording "INC" and "Zero" grades. I will recommend that our program be changed to report "Incomplete" whenever an assessment has not been completed since that's much more reflective of the current grade status. I'll use John's recommendation of sending a note home stating that the assignment / assessment needs to be completed so that the student can receive credit and avoid having to repeat the course. We do this for Progress Reports, but they come out half-way through the quarter - kinda late for some students!

For me, the issue of reporting regular homework grades posed a problem - some students rarely, if ever, do math "Home Learning Assignments." To avoid recording zero grades, I give a single "Class Work / Home Work" grade for each lesson - that way, students can still earn up to half of their points just for coming to class, participating in class activities, and completing the "U-Dos" during class (increases in-class engagement for some, but there are still those who choose to do little to nothing). At least that way, a "zero average" in "Work Ethic" will not sabotage their overall average. However, I'm left with the problem of motivating those students who choose to do nothing . . . that problem becomes one of external motivation rather than one of grades!

So, now . . . I'm going to go read about student engagement and student motivation . . . again - I'm always in search of ways to get my students involved in taking responsibility for their own education / learning - not an easy task! Administrative support and school-wide expectations / consequences in place help.

I don't know about others,

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I don't know about others, but I do not assign grades. Students earn grades based upon their decisions whether or not to be accountable for the materials. I merely facilitate their ability to master materials. If students are taught to be accountable for their actions, no zeros will be needed. It is about accountability. A zero denotes no effort whatsoever or failure to fulfill academic obligations such as deadlines. If criteria are explicitly stated, atudents are aware of their obligations. Grades are earned according to effort. Therefore if a zero is earned, a zero is given.

Grade 12 English, Literature and Bible teacher in Abbotsford, BC

We need to come to an

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We need to come to an agreement about what the grade is to communicate. If it is to communicate what the student knows and can do, then we can't use zeros. The teacher is expected to assess what the student can do or what she knows. Without data, this is impossible. The teacher must get it. No data, no mark. If a zero is averaged into the mark, it no longer communicates what it is supposed to communicate—it no longer measures performance. This is much more thoroughly explained at http://trentdejong.com/?s=zero

NBCT, science educator

Trent you raise a good

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Trent you raise a good point-"what does a grade communicate?" I can tell you in my class, it represents learning and understanding since 95% of their grade is determined by performance on summative assessments. These summative assessments are diverse and only given when formative assessment data reflect readiness.
As for your position on "no zeros"-I agree with your philosophy yet in practice we are constrained to polices such as "grades need to be submitted by X date." If it was up to me I would give no grade because of lack of data. My school is not set up to extend the school year for students who are challenged in the life skill department. I use an even distribution scale, so students are able to recover when they make poor decisions Giving a zero is only harmful when there is no way to recover from them.
Zero's represent choices students make. As practitioners we need to do as much as we can to teach students critical life skills so that they can not make such decisions. At the end of the quarter, I need to turn in a grade. This grade will always reflect what was learned and understood.

Grade 12 English, Literature and Bible teacher in Abbotsford, BC

What do you do when a student doesn't turn in work?

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I still contend that you can't give the student a zero for work not turned in because it will then be an inacurate reflection of what a student knows or can do.

So I do what ever I can to get the work in--I use a combination of parental pressure and coersion (I tell them they need to turn the work in by Tuesday, or whatever, and if it's not done they stay in at lunch to finish and I will mark whatever is completed by the end of lunch).

If this fails, theoretically, the student will not receive credit for the class. They can take summer school or do it next semester, or whatever. These consequences are much more severe than giving them a zero. This ought to silence the critics who thing that the no-zero policy is some sort of softening of consequences so as to protect the fragile self esteem of students.

I've never gone this far because I always get the work in by day X.

So then the zero doesn't represent the choice the student makes. The kid receiving no credit represents the choice the student makes, and the grades can represent what the student can and cannot do.

Read more at http://trentdejong.com/?p=398

NBCT, science educator

Major projects are not the same as small homework assignments

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Trent, your system seems to complex for me but if it works for you that is great!
My practices work for my students. If students fail to complete/submit work I record "missing" or "0." They have the option to replace this zero with taking a standardized assessment which addresses the same standard + must also submit a reflection paper which focuses on self-regulation. I suggest you read the book by Dan Pink called Drive and Robyn Jackson's Don't Work Harder Than Your Students. The use of the carrot+stick model is ineffective in getting students to change behavior. Teaching students to hold themselves accountable for the choices has been more effective in my practice than calling home.

The best lesson for students who "choose" not to do their work is letting them learn from the experience and providing them opportunities to recover from such choices. If they learn, then their grade will always represent this growth.

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