Just when I thought things in education couldn’t get any more foolish, I read about a district’s “no-zero” grade policy:
The Chillicothe school board is considering a proposal to change the grading scale so that no student would receive a zero. The lowest grade would be 50 percent.
Assistant Superintendent Jon Saxton proposed the idea of a no-zero policy to get students to do their school work.
Chillicothe Board of Education and administration say not all students are aiming high and they want to change that by removing what they consider a harmful practice.
“We look at the practice of giving students zeros for work that’s not completed and it’s punitive, as it, it’s like an F to the sixth degree, because the grade that’s given for a zero is six times greater than the work that’s poorly done,“ Saxton said.
Incoming freshman Emily Gray said she thinks the no-zero policy is a good idea because it will help students to pass their classes.
“It might be better for some of the kids because they, kids who get zeroes, it might bring their grades down lower and they might not be able to pass grades,“ Emily Gray said.
Gray’s father however, disagrees because he thinks students who don’t do their work shouldn’t receive the same grade as students who put forth more effort.
“But a zero is a zero and a 50 percent is a 50 percent and if you receive 50 percent for doing zero, I don’t think it’s a good way to teach a child,“ said Mark Gray.
Where are they getting this stuff? Seriously! I feel like wretching.
In all fairness, the news report is leaving out a lot of details. What if a kid does nothing on an assignment, perhaps just writing his name on a quiz and giving a few half-baked answers? Will he get a 50 on the quiz? Will a girl who, say, gets a 5 out of 10 on the same quiz also get a 50? Will every failing assignment get a 50, regardless of what the student actually knows or the effort he actually makes?
So I’m waiting to hear more. As it stands, however, my skin is crawling for several reasons:
1) What’s so bad about “punitive” measures anyway? It’s like “punishment” is a four letter word these days. We can’t punish kids because that will damage their little psyches. Gimme a break. Part of the reason why so many kids have such frail egos is because the adults in their lives frown upon punishment. A kid does something stupid, and he faces consequences. You get what you earn. Discipline…in the days of yore, these things were mule horse common sense. Guess not anymore. Why are we such softies these days?
2) This is clearly “lowering the bar,” and the Supe is kidding himself if he thinks lowering the bar will get kids to, in his words, “aim high.” Every time, and I mean every time, I and my teaching colleagues have lowered the bar, thinking that it will actually motivate kids to do more, the students have only wratcheted their efforts down to meet our lower expectations. Perhaps a few will do more, but the overwhelming majority will aim for the new mediocrity, at best.
There are no shortcuts, people. Kids rise to the occasion by being challenged, and I fail to see how this will challenge them.
3) Perhaps the worst part about this policy is the lesson it teaches kids in regards to the relationship between achievement and your wage for such achievement. I mean, geez, what a genius the incoming freshman girl is. Getting zeros will make it hard to pass a class. DUH. You actually have to do passing work to get a passing grade, honey…or at least that’s the way it should be, but apparently not in Chillicothe anymore. It is called “reaping what you sow.” It is a law of reality. It is the way the world works, and that’s allright by me. Imagine the shock when students who are brought up under this policy get to college, and their college professor gruffly explains to them that they actually get a zero for turning in zero-quality work, or they actually get a 20 for turning in 20 work. As one teacher, who actually experienced a similar policy in his school, said:
Whatever we do in the school systems (and at home) with our children they will internalize and carry with them throughout their lives. If we handicap them with a policy that teaches them that life, and people will cut them some slack, simply based on the virture that they are breathing air, then they are in for more than just an initial shock when they exit the schools into the workforce. To some extent they will bear the damage from this policy throughout their lives.
What horrible life lessons this teaches kids! Johnny doesn’t do a thing on the quiz, doesn’t even attempt to get anything right, and he still gets a 50% for it. That’s gonna mess with his head big time.
Yes, because there will be a 10 point spread between every grade, as opposed to a 60 point spread between two grades and a 10 between all others (this is one of the arguments supporters are using), this will make grading simpler, perhaps, but the message it sends kids far outweighs that one small benefit. If anything, this one argument in favor of the no-zero policy supports not the no-zero policy, but a grading system which further subdivides an F (example: a 40 is an E, a 20 a G, etc.). Those further subdivisions would still connote that a student didn’t measure up on an assignment, but would give him or her a better idea of exactly where s/he stands and would reflect what s/he knows more accurately.
4) So let me get this straight. When I go to the bank and deposit nothing, I actually get 50% back?** Snicker…had to get that one in there.
5) You who the real fools will be? The kids who actually do their work. Or at least it will look that way and the students will feel that way, even though it might not be like that in reality. Johnny, an expert gamer if there ever was one, gets to kick back, receive his educational welfare check of bunch of 50s, then scoot by at the last moment by doing just enough to get by, while Suzie is working her butt off to actually earn a passing grade. The final grades of both students won’t reflect their actual effort and achievement. How stupid do you think Suzie will feel?
Alice Armstrong nails it in her op-ed against the no-zero grading policy:
Suppose you go to your doctor for a physical, and she says you need to lose 50 pounds. She designs a weight-loss plan for you that includes modifying your diet and exercising daily and tells you to come back in two months.
You ignore the doctor’s instructions, put forth zero effort to lose weight and naturally, fail to shed a single pound. Going into your follow-up appointment, you fully expect to be chastised by your doctor, but she surprises you.
“Well,” she says, “zero weight loss doesn’t look good on your record, so I’m just going to write down here that you lost 25 pounds, OK?”
Six months later you develop full-blown diabetes. Is the doctor guilty of malpractice?
Now, suppose you have kids who do not like to study and do homework. (I know it’s a stretch, but try.) Their teachers tell them if they want to earn high grades in their classes, develop self-respect and self-confidence and learn the skills they will need for a vocation or college, they must work hard.
The kids ignore their teachers’ instructions and frequently choose playing their video games and text messaging over doing their schoolwork. They often earn poor grades on quizzes and assignments. Also, one child fails to turn in her term paper in English, and the other doesn’t bother to make up a unit test in his math class, even though teachers in both classes try again and again to get them to do the work.
As report card day approaches, both kids begin to worry about their grades. Then their report cards arrive, and they simultaneously heave huge sighs of relief. Neither child failed a single course. In fact, neither student earned lower than a C because the teachers gave the kids 50 percent on assignments they didn’t do.
Two years later, both kids flunk out of college. They lack the knowledge base and self-discipline needed to succeed in the academic setting. Are their teachers to blame because they failed to prepare the students for success?
My prediction is that this isn’t going to help anything. Sure, more kids might pass, but the passing grades will be inflated incredibly. The ledgers will be full of those who didn’t actually earn a passing grade–they just learned how to game the system. You’re gonna see a throng of students nickel and dime their way to a diploma in Chilli….kinda like things are now, just more so.
The ONE benefit that is coming out of this is that I am rethinking my own grading policies. I see “no-zero”-like tendencies in my own teaching, and it is high time to cut it out.
One teacher I shared this with blamed it on the standardized testing craze and NCLB. I seriously doubt that’s the culprit for all this. This has nothing to do with NCLB (though that batch of laws was and is flawed) and everything to do with a culture that worships self-esteem.
Grading policies such as this are actually becoming somewhat popular. My hope is that educators wake up and ditch this for the worthless dribble that it is.
**Thanks to Alan Sitomer for this sarcastic reply to the news story.
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