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"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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Brian Hoelscher's picture

I am an administrator of a small elementary district in IL. We went to a no zero policy three years ago due to the fact that we had an increasing number of students who were content with taking the zero and failing and WAY TOO MANY teachers willing to give the zeros and watch them fail. Looking at the numbers, with zeros you hurt your low socio-economic group the worst. Dr. Doug Reeves puts it best--"the consequence for a student who fails to meet a standard is not a low grade but rather the opportunity--indeed, the requirement--to resubmit his or her work." Make them do the homework. If our kids don't do their work, they receive automatic homework help time after school and, if they don't finish before Friday, then they come in for four hours on Saturday to finish. We are no longer allowed to make homework assistanace invitational. Students go through more an more restrictive measures each day they don't have their work done. When they hand their completed work in (now this may make you blow your top) we give them full credit. No zeros, No extra credit, only what they know. If they have a zero at the end of the nine weeks, we give them an incomplete until the assignment is turned in. It has worked very well and I am pleased with the results--especially with my free-reduced lunch kids.

David Wees's picture
David Wees
Formative Assessment Specialist for New Visions for Public Schools

We have a different strategy. Basically, we don't average our grades, we use our best professional judgement as to what final grade in a specific criteria we think a kid has earned. As a result, 0s in grade books are a lot less damaging overall to a student's grade.

I'll explain the system in more detail, but it's based on the International Baccalaureate Middle Years programme system if you want to do further research on how this is implemented in other schools.

Each course is summatively assessed in a number of different criterion. For example, students in math are assessed in Knowledge and Understanding, Investigating Patterns, Communication in Mathematics, and Reflection in Mathematics, which are each graded using a rubric. If a student, for example, receives summative marks of 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 7 for a criterion, we might judge the difficulty of the final assignment, and the trend in improvement, and award that student either a 6 or a 7 for that criterion. To determine the final score for a student, from 1 to 7, the grades for each criterion are added up, and then compared against a chart. The purpose of the 1 to 7 grades is to map the student performance (Very poor, poor, mediocre, satisfactory, good, very good, excellent) to a number.

By contrast, we also look at a students approaches to learning grade and try, as much as possible, to separate this from their summative grade. So a student who hardly ever hands anything in, but when they do it's awesome, might get a 7 for their overall summative grade, but more like a 2 or a 3 for their approaches to learning "grade." Note that there is almost never this large a disparity between the two grades.

The point is to give the students feedback about what they are doing as a learner to improve their learning separate from their performance as a learner. The approaches to learning grade could be thought of as a measure of the student's "coachability" and the summative grade could be thought of as their performance on the field during the big game.

The advantage of this approach is that we don't need to worry about nonsense like 0s or late penalties, and can focus on using other strategies to improve a student's learning strategies rather than their overall summative grade. It does mean that we are struggling with some students to get them to turn work in on time, or at all, particularly students who have come from a different assessment system before joining our school. However, our struggle is focused on what we are trying to improve, their study habits, and we aren't penalizing them on their end grade.

Ryan Reed's picture
Ryan Reed
7/8th Grade Social Studies Teacher in Maine

Great advice. I also subscribe to the belief that a student can make up work at any time to full credit, because after all they are demonstrating mastery to me. However, I am definitely in the minority among colleagues with this philosophy. I really like the idea of a mandatory "homework club" of sorts. How did you garner the support for it from your staff and budget-crafters?

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

And here's what they said (We asked: Controversial question ---> Should teachers give zero as a grade? http://bit.ly/lhr6pR)

@edutopia Thanks! I'd be interested to know whether this system really does lead to more student accountability... (from @siobhancurious)

@edutopia Teachers don't GIVE grades, students EARN them! (from @anova_learning)

@edutopia Not true assessment if you give zeros...(from @DawnGranley)

@edutopia A student may not realize the impact of a zero, but not learning the material will impact them for sure. (from @darcerz)

@edutopia Yes! Too bad GW Bush was able to benefit from it:(! (from @carbon68)

@edutopia Education shouldn't be all about grades. Regardless of the grade they receive we have to ask ourselves "what did they learn?". (from @darcerz)

@edutopia Not so much about "giving" but about students "earning"a zero. If no work is done there is no grade to give (or students to earn). (frm @ajjuliani)

@edutopia Kids who get something for nothing become adults who expect something for nothing. No work? No points/pay. (from @Mamacita)

@edutopia It's not controversial at all. Those who work, earn. Those who don't work, don't earn. Life is full of choices. (from @Mamacita)

@EDUTOPIA Why should a student who chooses to do nothing receive the same recognition as a student who works hard? (from @Mamacita)

@edutopia nope. There are 69 points where children can fail, and there are only 31 points within which kids can show mastery. Change needed. (from @sarahmurpheeee)

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Zeros are a social justice issues- the most underserved students are also most likely to have a large number of zeros. In my opinion, the zero is a symptom of a larger issue or issues- the work load is too large, trivial and/or irrelevant, students lack the resources (either materials or parental) to complete the work, the classroom is an inherently unsafe place for the student, making the risk of completing work (and failing after an honest effort) just to big to take ..there are a lot of reasons why kids choose not to complete work. The question shouldn't be "Do we allow zeros," the question should be, "Why do our kids want to take the zero?" Answer the latter and the former becomes irrelevant.

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