A big red zero in the grade book typically means only one thing: a student has failed to turn in an assignment. Giving zeros for classwork that wasn’t turned in on time is the typical response of most teachers to a student who has failed to complete the necessary work. Zeros, however, can present a number of problems for students. Should teachers give zeros? There are arguments on both sides of the fence, and many teachers are hotly divided on the concept of no-zero grading policies.
Why Give Zeros?
Teachers give zeros to reflect work that a student hasn’t done. Typically, if a student turns in an assignment at all–especially one that shows that they’ve put in some effort–teachers will choose to give the student some level of grade. A zero, on the other hand, reflects that a student hasn’t put in any effort at all. Teachers give zeros for a number of reasons.
Zeros hold students accountable. Teachers can’t just make upgrades for students who haven’t performed work, nor can they offer a different grading scale for students who have failed to turn in assignments on time than they do for students who have been working diligently all semester. Putting a zero in the grade book holds students accountable and lets parents know that they haven’t completed necessary schoolwork.
Zeros force students to adhere to deadlines. Many districts that don’t accept zeros allow students to complete the work for missing assignments at any time. According to teachers that give zeros for missing work, zeros force students to adhere to those deadlines and get work turned in on time–much the same way they would have to complete work in a timely manner when they’re working in the real world.
Skipping the zero forces more work on teachers. The assignment was given at the beginning of the semester. Now, it’s time for grades to go in, and students are scrambling to complete assignments so that they can bring their grades up. This can create a significant amount of additional work for teachers, who are often already underpaid and overworked.
Why Not Give Zeros?
Many teachers and administrators have chosen to shift away from a “zero” method–and for several good reasons. Instead of giving zeros, these teachers often give students “incomplete” grades or other grades that reflect the fact that the assignment hasn’t been completed. In order to get an accurate look at their grades, students are then forced to actually complete missing assignments. There are several reasons why teachers choose not to give zeros.
Every assignment is important. Most teachers don’t give out assignments arbitrarily. They want students to learn the assigned material, whether that’s writing a detailed paper for English that’s intended to hone their writing skills or performing complicated math equations. If teachers only give assignments that are genuinely important, then it is equally important that students actually complete them. Giving an incomplete grade, instead of a zero, forces students to actually complete those assignments, even if they get to it a little late.
Students may not care about zeros. To many students, zeros are just a number. Once it’s been put in the grade book, they need no longer care about that assignment–and they may assume that, at that point, there’s nothing they can do about it. As a result, many students are content to simply allow that grade to sit there. After all, it doesn’t reflect anything about them, other than the fact that they simply failed to complete an assignment.
Zeros can actually decrease motivation. Zeros can quickly destroy a student’s grade. On a standard hundred-point scale, most students must score above 69% in order to pass a class. Zeros can quickly destroy student averages, leaving them struggling to pull their grades up. Once they reach a critical point where it’s no longer possible to pull the grade up, students may stop caring about the class altogether–and they may actually do even less work due to those failing grades.
Zeros fail to accurately reflect student performance. A zero is a grade given for work that wasn’t completed. It has nothing to do with a student’s capability or their mastery of a subject, which is what grades are actually intended to measure.
Many students deal with a wide range of outside problems. For many students, grade performance is secondary to the many factors that impact them at home. As a result, they may be left struggling to complete assignments, especially homework. Offering an alternative to a zero can help these students improve their overall performance, encouraging them to keep trying instead of giving up.
The zero grade has been one we have greatly debated at The Tenney School. Our policy does allow teacher to give zeros for homework (if it is not turned in). Since homework represents 10-20% of a students grade (depending on the grade and class), a homework zero on a particular assignment will not destroy a students semester grade. And student who turn homework in late are allowed to receive partial credit. Our teachers will not give zeros for tests of major project grades. A zero grade on ones of these can completely destroy a students semester grade.
Many teachers believe that doing away with zeros is a better way to understand students’ actual academic performance. Others find that reducing zeros can provide higher levels of student motivation. At The Tenney School, we want every student to have a better chance of academic success. As a result, we offer our students an opportunity to complete missed work, providing them with a higher level of understanding of the subject matter and greater responsibility for their assignments. Want to learn more? Contact us today to better understand how our school can benefit your struggling student.