I recently had an online discussion with a public school teacher about the recent trend of teachers being forbidden to give zeros for grades. The reasoning is that a zero grade is too hard to recover from for the student. This was her comment:
I heard a principal say "meet the students halfway." By this comment he explained that if a student didn't do his homework or simply placed his name on the test, to place a 50 and not a zero for the grade. He further elaborated and said that teachers to encourage students to meet them at at least 10% of the way to average out to at least 60%. He further warned that placing zeros in the grade book meant teachers would have to begin RTI on every zero for students and that teachers with too many failures meant that teachers are classified as Tier III (meaning being fired or transferred)
This kind of policy drives me crazy--another case of the "wussification of American" that I have written about in the past. Refusing to give zeros means giving students unearned credit. Personally, I think that principal should be fired or reassigned for having such a ridiculous policy, not the teachers that he is blaming for disagreeing. Of course, you will also hear very intelligent people say that one should be fired for NOT having that kind of policy.
When it comes to giving zeros, I like to think of grades as a total, rolling average for a given grading period (whether that be semester, nine weeks, or whatever). So, if you get a grade of zero on one assignment and 100 on the next, then that means you only know half of the material. I don't think that deserves anything but an average of "F."
If a zero is too hard to recover from, then the student is the one who should be motivated to avoid earning it. The teacher should not be motivated to avoid giving the grade. I see grading as keeping score. I don't consider the impact of the grade I am giving. I simply keep track. Don't get me wrong, I do my best to help the student be successful before the grading begins. Once it is time for that, though, they are on their own.
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