No Zeros Until… Part II

It has been almost a year since I made the statement to my staff that I do not want them to assign a zero to any student until they intervene in some way (ask the student why the work wasn’t turned it, call the parent of the student, do something besides assigning a zero and moving on…) Since I made that now infamous statement, various reactions have occurred among staff, students and parents.  Here is a summary of such reactions:

 I. Teacher Perspective

  • Some were doing this long before I made the statement because they philosophically don’t agree with academic punishment for a behavioral problem.
  • Some were confused because they believe I said, “No zeros. Ever.”
  • Some follow the policy as written in our Student Handbook, which is “no credit is given during on out of school suspension, unexcused absences, or class cuts. No credit is given for long term projects or papers not completed by the deadline.”
  • Some just want a decision to be made so they know what to do.

 II. Student Perspective

  • For some, it has increased their work ethic because they know their teachers will stay on them until an assignment is turned it. Not turning in an assignment is no longer an option for them.
  • For some, it doesn’t make a difference. There are some assignments they don’t do and are not going to do regardless of what the teacher wants them to do, or what interventions are provided.
  • Some don’t believe it’s right or fair for students to be given a second chance to complete assignments. If they didn’t complete by the deadline, tough.

 III. Parent Perspective

  • Some are having a difficult time with the lack of consistency: some teachers give chances while others don’t.
  • Some are very appreciative of our focus on learning and completing quality work while not focusing so much on deadlines.
  • Some believe we are perpetuating a lack of responsibility and accountability.

This is a polarizing topic and there are no easy solutions. Here’s what I’ve done thus far and what I will do in the future in regards to this topic:

  1. I’ve asked my Principals Advisory Council to review and respond to a statement of clarification and to ask questions, share concerns, and to help make the statement more concise before I send it to the entire staff.
  2. I’ve discussed this with my Lions Advisory Board, which is an advisory board of parents, students, community members and staff members. It’s a diverse group of nearly 20 members. The response was similar to the bulletin points mentioned above.
  3. I have surveyed the staff to get a clearer picture of current practices, assumptions, and needs regarding grading. There were no real surprises, but giving zeros for suspension continues to be a topic that we need to discuss.
  4. Find out what other schools in our conference are doing (for data gathering purposes). In the end, we have to do what’s best for our students because each school has its’ own DNA.
  5. Make a final decision by the spring so that we can make any necessary policy changes for Board of Education approval. That way, we start off the new school year with a clear direction.

A zero is very damaging and may not truly reflect what a student knows. However, until we, and many schools, determine what goes into a grade; learning, behavior, punctuality, effort, etc. this debate will continue. My thought is this: since a zero is so embedded in our system, why not make the lowest possible F a 50%? All other grades are based on a 10 point scale (A =100-90, B= 89-80, etc.). On a 100 point scale, an F is 59-0 points compared to the other grades mentioned above. If we look at it from a pure ratio standpoint, an F is clearly weighted much heavier than any other grade and has the greatest impact. We have given the zero value in order to force students to comply. I don’t think this makes sense and doesn’t appear to be working as it was set up to.

On the other hand, if we allow students to retake tests or quizzes, we should ask them to explain why they have to retake the test. If it’s because they just didn’t study, is that a good enough reason? I don’t know the answer to this, but it’s something to think about. There are several strategies teachers use, from not allowing a student to take a unit test until all their homework is turned in to coming in early for test retakes. We have seen an increase in student achievement and I attribute this to the efforts of the teachers and students. Some of our interventions are working.

Be Great,









4 thoughts on “No Zeros Until… Part II

  1. I wish we could have this conversation in my high school. I, too, have had this debate with my conscience about assigning zeros: it is the simple way to do things, but is it the proper way? Here is a post that changed my thinking earlier in 2011: .

    I proposed this to my co-teacher this year and she immediately said no (she is a 2nd year teacher and, like most, I think, falls back on tradition). I came up with a compromise that seems to work so far this year:
    – If a student misses a due date, they have a second chance to receive full credit, but they must attend one of the next two extra help sessions.

    – If they don’t attend extra help, they receive 30% off.

    – One week later, if the assignment hasn’t been turned in, they receive 50% off and it is considered incomplete.

    – (and here’s the change to school policy…let’s see how this plays out when this quarter ends) ALL WORK MUST BE COMPLETED to receive a quarter grade. I will keep the INC on the books (not a 0) until the student does all the work.

    I’m hoping this bridges the gap a bit – they can’t get a zero, so they have to do the work. Of course, if they are only doing the work for the grade (i.e. the “not-zero”) are they really learning at all?

    As an afterthought…my “system” above requires a LOT of paperwork and record-keeping. Each step involves contact home, etc. Just a heads-up.

  2. Hi Deb,

    Thanks for commenting and for sharing your link. We are making progress towards some common ground.

    Be Great,


  3. Hello Anthony,

    First, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the post! Secondly, conversations about grades and grading practices are difficult conversations. There is no one right way or wrong way to grade, which makes the process even more challenging. What you have proposed is a good compromise and a way to focus on learning. I like the point that all work must be completed to receive a quarter grade. Just be sure to run this by your administration and guidance office because, from my experience, that causes a ripple effect of problems that will need to be cleaned up later. Keep it the fight!

    Be Great,


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