Several months ago, after much reflection, examination of school data, and conversations with a few teachers, I asked my teachers to not assign a zero to any student until they intervene in some way; talk with the student to find out why they did not turn in the assignment, call a parent to let them know an assignment was missed, do something before recording a zero in the grade book.
There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, meetings after the meeting, some cheers and head nods, and every other emotion imaginable. I should not have been surprised because the timing of my proclamation was bad (criticism well deserved), but I was. I was surprised because we’ve had some high quality professional development over the last decade or so that includes Total Quality Management by David Langford, Differentiated Instruction, Understanding by Design, Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships, and Professional Learning Communities including the Pyramid of Intervention all in addition to creating common assessments and learning targets. With all that knowledge, I figured we were ready to look more closely at why we still automatically assign zeros for missed assignments. Well, like most things, some were ready and thankful while others were… not so much. Ah, the controversy of grades continues.
Doug Reeves, Thomas Guskey, David Langford, and Ken O’Conner among others have researched this for years and have thoroughly explained why zeros create a huge hole for students to dig themselves out of. So why assign them, especially on a 100 point scale. It’s not as damaging if using a 4 or 5 point scale. However, the point is to find out why a student did not turn in an assignment and if the assignment is important to their learning, then why wouldn’t we want it turned in? Just intervene…
Some of the arguments against this reasoning have been:
“We are not teaching students to be responsible if we allow them to turn in work late.”
“They are not going to be prepared for college and the real world because deadlines are deadlines. Period.”
“We are teaching students to be lazy and to procrastinate.”
I understand these arguments, but I don’t necessarily agree with them. Learning is a continuous process and real world deadlines are flexible. There are deadlines and penalties, but companies want their payments regardless if it’s on time or not. A deadline is a deadline, but they want to be paid.
Okay, back to my point. Once the dust settled and there was further clarification, many teachers began extending deadlines, talking with students about missed assignments, and examining the assignments they were giving to students. As a result, we had the largest number of incompletes at the end of each quarter than ever before. This may not sound like a point to celebrate, but it is because teachers were giving students chances and many responded.
After recently talking with a couple of my teachers while at a workshop I can see that there is still a need for more clarification about the expectations. For example, incompletes should not go on forever. After the teacher has intervened by talking with the student, contacting a parent, and/or assigning the student to the PASS Room for additional help, etc. and there has been no effort to complete the assignment, then a zero is warranted and it’s time to move on.
We are still working through a number of questions and concerns about the “No Zero Until…” guideline and I’m very excited that we are able to discuss this openly and honestly as a staff. Many agree, many disagree, and many are intervening with creative ideas. What are your thoughts about zeros for work not turned in? How do you handle this as a teacher or administrator?