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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"0" As a Grade

"0" As a Grade

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In looking at my final gradebook, I'm left wondering about an old dilemma. Should a student who has not turned in an assignment receive a "0" as a grade (when using a traditional 100-pt scale)? Rick Wormelli, author of "Fair Isn't Always Equal," recommends entering a high, but failing, score as not to disadvantage students with such an "anchor" grade pulling them down. I know some teachers who don't enter a grade at all and just look at what they have gotten to determine what the student knows. What are everyone's thoughts here? What do you do in this situation? And perhaps more importantly, what do you believe your grade represents?

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Sandi's picture
Sandi
multigrade teacher PK3,4 Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 7th & 8th

I simply convinced my students that "0's were not acceptable and told the students they would have to do the work as homework and notified the parents. I also used the analogy that if they made an "F" in the designated subject that it would really be horrible if that grade on their transcript caused them to miss out on a job that pays $100,000.00.

Sandi's picture
Sandi
multigrade teacher PK3,4 Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 7th & 8th

I simply convinced my students that "0's were not acceptable and told the students they would have to do the work as homework and notified the parents. I also used the analogy that if they made an "F" in the designated subject that it would really be horrible if that grade on their transcript caused them to miss out on a job that pays $100,000.00.

Corah's picture

[quote] My question though: why are we as teachers so afraid of allowing students to fail? Isn't failure a significant chunk of how we learn? Isn't this what we use to develop character? perseverance? The cliche of falling off the horse and getting back up seems to have slipped through the cracks in an effort to do good for students and not do right by them. Isn't it better to let them skin their knees and dust them off to help them go again?[/quote]

Failing is one thing, having no hope of redemption is another. A zero can drag grades down to the point of no recovery. A 50% is still a failing grade and can be recovered from with some effort.

Students who choose not to do their homework will find themselves sitting with a clipboard during recess to get it done.

Ann Hyde's picture
Ann Hyde
Special Ed English teacher, Anchorage, Alaska

My policy is to give students enough time in class to complete their work. Anything they don't finish becomes homework. We have a student information system that let's parents check assignments and grades online. Also, as a spec ed teacher with a caseload, if a parent contacts me, I can find out what's going on. Students are allowed to fail, but are given opportunities and support to make up work or discuss options with their teachers. This policy works quite well, and holds students accountable for their decisions.

Joe Dillon's picture

I read through these posts and I want to put them into two categories: some respondents reflect on their assessment practices and some respondents remark that students can be apathetic and or deserve feedback that reflects low performance, concluding that zeroes are warranted.
Of course some students are apathetic. Of course, when we teach a lesson or unit, some students don't seem to have learned it and our grading shouldn't show that they did.
The question of grading is in essence a question of feedback. Even if we assign all the blame, for arguments sake, to the students when they don't learn or turn in an assignment, we still ought to reflect that numerical feedback that is highly subjective to how idiosyncratic teachers have structured assignments and grading policies is really incomprehensible to learners.
Many of the arguments that say we should let kids "skin their knees" or learn how to persevere through adversity seem to miss the point that what teachers can control- the grading and the feedback, is statistically unfair (regardless of how apathetic a student might be) and ineffective as a practice. The hypothetical lazy student or inert learner is beside the point.

When the F category is 6 times larger than any other category for letter grades, that is statistically unfair. If a student who receives a low grade is unsure about what they have to learn and the ways they might learn it, then the feedback is ineffective.

Corah's picture

[quote]When the F category is 6 times larger than any other category for letter grades, that is statistically unfair. If a student who receives a low grade is unsure about what they have to learn and the ways they might learn it, then the feedback is ineffective.[/quote]

If you start your grading at a 50% though the F category is just as large as the others. 50-59 F, 60-69 D, 70-79 C, 80-89 B, 90-100 A (and in fact the A has one extra point :) )

Joe Dillon's picture

[quote]If you start your grading at a 50% though the F category is just as large as the others. 50-59 F, 60-69 D, 70-79 C, 80-89 B, 90-100 A (and in fact the A has one extra point :) )[/quote]

If you start your grading at 50%, then you agree that zeroes are unfair. If there was a thread about "50% as a grade," I'd be inclined to agree that it was fair. I would still argue that 50% is incomprehensible, because it is a formulaic trick to make quantifying assessment more fair. If a struggling student isn't understanding the concepts presented in a course, explaining to them that grading percentages start at 50 isn't likely to clear things up.

Corah's picture

I teach 4th grade, what they see are the letter grades, so to them an F is an F regardless of whether I put it in my grade book as a 50 or a 0. However, if I do put in a 0 it's very hard for them to recover from it and that one bad grade can drag down a whole trimesters work. I'd rather give them hope that if they work harder they can bring their grade back up than telling them that they now need to get 3 100%'s in order to even get a C.

Joe Dillon's picture

I think this discussion asks teachers to reflect on their assessment practices, even when those practices are mandated or systematic in a school. Logically, if a teacher concedes that zeroes aren't statistically fair, then the next step is to point out that percentages and point systems aren't comprehensible to students. On one hand, if a student never sees a number and understands that their achievement or learning falls into one of five categories, then that becomes more comprehensible for students. However, if we base our assessments of students on points and formulas then we have to be able to explain what those points and formulas represent. We have to understand how those points quantify learning or achievement. If we start the grading at 50%, or 50 points, we have to answer the questions: "50% of what?" and "what does a student have to do to get 50 points?"

Corah's picture

To get that 50% they have to have at least tried (and failed). No effort gets the grade it deserves. Projects get rubrics and tests get graded on a scale, homework is graded as being done (those that didn't do their homework, spend recess doing it). We've got to grade them somehow, why not just start your numbering at 50 rather than at 0? It's all arbitrary.

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