About a month ago I got into a lively discussion on Twitter about The Case Against the Zero. Apparently some schools do not believe it is acceptable to award zeros when students fail to do their work. I read some of the research and in some cases I would have to agree it makes sense. My concern is that students can sit back and complete just enough to scrape by. I spent the better part of this morning researching this topic further and creating different scenarios in my gradebook to see the results of awarding zeros versus half credit. (In other words a 0 on a 4,3,2,1, 0 scale) The results were astounding! I will share what I found, but I want you to share your thoughts and examples first.

I am really curious to hear from people who support this methodology. How do you support your stance? How do you deal with students who play the system? The ones who have figured out that they if they do well on the tests or turn in an assignment every now and then they will still pass?

Tags: grading, scales, zero, zeroes, zeros

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One problem with researching something like this is that students' responses will vary over time. After a while, they are likely to simply recalibrate their expectations to 1 or 0.5 meaning what zero used to mean. So your initially optimistic research results may not accurately predict the long-term result.

Tangentially, we see the opposite problem in Yacapaca. The most popular assessment form in Yacapaca is the 4-option multiple choice quiz. Even experienced teachers often fail to realize that 25% is the average mark that would be achieved by blind guesswork. Their conversion table from percentages to grades is as a result hopelessly optimistic at the bottom end. I have no information on how the students react to this, but I certainly worry that they may be gaining false confidence.
I feel really strongly that if a student does not complete the work at all he or she should not receive any credit. I'm all for giving partial credit for students who make an effort and I have never given less than %50 on an assignment to a student who attempted to complete it, but awarding points for zero work just does not wash with me.

I understand the power of a zero to drag students down, but if they want to be given a chance they have to at least turn something in.
I've had a great philosophical shift this year which has led me to investigate other grading options. I teach 7th grade science and that is my goal - to teach my students science. If a student knows the content I am teaching them then I feel I've done my job. Now, the path they take to learn and show me their learning may be different for every child. I'm sure we've all experienced the student who participates in class, understands the material but b/c of situations going on outside of school they fail to do the homework and projects. The teacher I used to be would have said they deserced to fail because they didn't do the work. Now, I have to evaluate their learning. When assessed, do they show me they have met my learning targets? If so, it doesn't seem fair to me that they receive a failing grade. I think that if you focus on the fact that your students are learning, or not learning, then that takes away some of the fear that they will begin to play the system. If a student can still demonstrate their mastery of your learning targets then you have still accomplished your goal which is to educate them.
Think about it logically. You have a grading scale of 94-100 88-93 B 81-87 C 74-87 D 0-73 F. Using math rules you are giving F work 73 points while other grading levels are 7 points. ? How can that possibility be equal?

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