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,










  1. James McKee said:

    How does your policy affect teachers who are trying to implement standards based grading, if you have any? How do you see SBG in light of your current policy?

    December 21, 2011
  2. I teach at a magnet high school so, I see the end result of any or all No Zero policies. I have a couple of basic problems with no zero policies. The first is based on the fact that our students must apply to get in to our school. So, with a no zero policy and privacy of information, kids can look awfully good on paper.

    Let me give you an example. I have little Johnny who applied to get into our school – which is a project based learning school – and looked really good on paper. He had all A’s and scored above average on standardized test. He is miserable and is making sure everyone around him is miserable. Why? He doesn’t do projects! Now that we can see his actual grades, we can see a history of never turning in projects from about 5th grade on. Since this work was never counted against him, he thought he would be able to do the same thing in high school.

    Next, in my class, I average missing grades as zeros but kids can still make them up (to a point). I give a progress report every other Friday and give kids a chance to turn in missing work usually the following Wednesday. I usually find that work not turned in is just an over sight or technical glitch. Kids however, until they are about juniors in high school, don’t understand how not doing the work can really effect their grade. (A lesson learned at our no zero middle schools.) Personally, when I give the kids their progress reports, I tell them that this is as low as their grade is going to go – it can go up – if they turn in their missing work by the date I have specified.

    We need to look at long term ramifications of our no zero policies. Sooner or later in life, kids have to face the consequences of their choices.

    December 21, 2011
  3. David Benson said:

    This is similar to a situation we’ve been having at the high school where I teach. We know we have a wide variability of compliance and there are good arguments on all sides. Of late we’ve begun discussing a 2 tier grade card. One grade would be based purely on mastery of material, the other the traditional grade based on performance, homework, etc.

    December 21, 2011
  4. Martin Swanhall said:

    We have also had this discussion many times and I agree with an F should by 50% because of the10 point increments from A to D. Since I teach chem and physics – sciences that rely on math skills as well as course material – I have allowed students to redo math-related questions/problems that got wrong for half of the original credit. So I am helping them learn the material for the retest but since they can only receive half the original amount of points, I am not penalizing those students who knew the answer on the first try.

    December 26, 2011

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