9. Zeroes Should Not Be Factored Into Grades.

In my Standards-Based Grading post three weeks ago, Anon Y. Mous asked that I explain the rationale behind each of the core guidelines involved in the S.B.G. system. I think it’s a good suggestion and here is the ninth core guideline. Please comment with any corrections as I am still learning this new system. 🙂

When grading many have popularly disagreed with the notion of the zero. Some argue that it’s mathematically skewing while others say that a zero does not show that no learning has occurred, only that there is no evidence of learning (meaning a zero is unwarranted).

Previously, I had posted this:

Zeroes are not mathematically just. When looking at mathematical formulas, a zero (on a 100 point scale) is an overwhelmingly unfair measure. Zeroes should be counted as 50% when considering grades. Using a GPA scale this makes sense because each grade is a factor of 1 (4 = A, 3 = B, 2 = C, 1 = D, and 0 = F). On a 100 point scale the F range is 60 points versus the 10% each other grade receives.

Also, I have posted this:

A zero may be an unfair grade anyway.

The idea of a zero may be wholly unfair when looked at mathematically or statistically (see case_against_zero for an in-depth explanation). Basically, the article shows how a zero may be unfair to a student because of the way it destroys a student’s average and how difficult it is for a student to recover.

Missing assignments, according to the linked statistical analysis, reveals that a 50% for a missing assignment may be more fair to a student. I changed the value of a missing assignment from 0% to 50% after I had finished grades in June, and—because I weight grades—only one grade actually changed (from a C- to a C). For me, making this change in a missing assignment value has a minimal effect, but for others this could have a drastic effect. In any case, eliminating the zero could be more fair to students and help them excel.

After all my talk I have finally tried not using the zero this semester for formative assessments. So far, I have noticed little change except that the ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades have moved a bit higher in percentage (i.e. 85% grades are now 88% grades). However, my grades in the ‘C’ and below ranges are relatively unchanged. I do weight grades, which tells me my weights must be making overall grades somewhat similar to aspects of standards-based grades.

However, I still use zeroes for temporary markers in my grade book. If a student misses a test or project, I put the zero in until the student makes up the assignment. This is more for parents because they see the immediate impact of a missed assignment, and they help me get the students n to make up work.

Well, what do you think about the zero as a grade?


7 thoughts on “9. Zeroes Should Not Be Factored Into Grades.

  1. Mrs. Chili

    This is one that I COMPLETELY agree with. I stopped giving zeros about a year ago after someone – it may have been YOU – explained this to me. Now I just issue a failing grade (on the scale of whichever school I’m working for). Students who fail to turn in significant amounts of work still fail, so I don’t feel as though I’m artificially inflating grades. An F is an F, whether it’s a 60 or a 15.

  2. Clix

    My concern would be that eliminating zeros would make it more possible for students to be promoted without demonstrating their level of understanding of all standards. I also find, like you apparently have, that factoring in a 50 for an F means that the student files the assignment under ‘unnecessary.’ And I’ve got parents who’ll bust their kids’ butts about a zero but not a fifty. 😉

    A zero in the gradebook is also a signal to me that I haven’t seen the work & might want to ask the student about it (since they could EARN a 50). I also use 10% as a marker for work that is well below standard and/or shows little to no effort. I do give full credit for late and make-up work until about a week before the end of the term. This has encouraged students to review, revise, and resubmit work they feel they can improve; students who did well the first time don’t need the practice.

  3. Anon Y. Mous

    I guess getting rid of zeroes further supports not including formative assignments into grades. I mean, recording the scores for formative assignments is fine, but why factor any of them in when getting final grades ready?

    If I get what you’re saying, then you don’t include any “prctice” assignments, so the zero doesn’t matter anyway. I like how you put a zero as a place holder for tests and big things. I bet parents get to the kids fast after seeing that!

  4. mz.w

    kids are already promoted without demonstrating mastery, so that’s a non-issue for me…i get what you are saying (i think) as far as the mathematics and whatnot go—the issue for me is this: our grade book program is set up in such a way, that if a kid never did any assignment ever, there would be no entry and no grade. however, if a kid does one assignment out of 45 all quarter and i enter that assignment and no zeroes for the others, the kid comes out with a 100% A for doing basically
    nothing! maybe i could tweak it, but honestly, who has the time? also, why would i give a kid who does nothing 50% when i have a kid who actually does 50%? do i give the kid who does 50% a D-? where does it end?
    also, i will reiterate what others have said: zeroes get more attention than partial credit does. always.

  5. drpezz Post author

    I think what you have to do first is to do decide which assignments determine mastery (summative assignments). Those have to be entered as grades, and students redo them until each is mastered.

    Then you create the practices (formative) for each mastery assignment. The practices then would be the ones which could be entered into a grade book but not for grades, only the mastery assignments would be entered.

    Only then would you start to consider (in my opinion) how zeroes work and what scale you use (1-4 rubric, 1-5 rubric, or 0-100%). I still use percentages but only the mastery assignments (summative) are recorded for grades.

  6. Jim Van Pelt

    Here’s an argument for evaluating more than just the summative assignments, or broadening what is considered summative: I think that what Mz.w said above about reducing the discussion about what goes into a kid’s grade to the absurd one-summative-grade scenario where a kid turns in just one work, gets a passing grade on it, and does nothing else, is possible. The reason we need to have lots of grades is that what we’re trying to teach kids often isn’t just a matter of have they learned it or not, but how well they’ve learned it. A kiddo could come into my creative writing class and just turn in the major summative assignment, the poetry portfolio at the end of six weeks. Well, my class isn’t the first place he’s heard about writing poetry, and most of what I’m teaching is not brand new skills. Without doing any of the previous work at all (exercises, mini-assignments, individual poems, etc.), the kid could get a “C” on the portfolio. But I’m not interested in giving him a grade on where he is now without any extra work. I want him to be better when he ends than when he starts, so I want him to do all the intermediary assignments, including the formative ones. Those assignments are designed not to teach new skills, but to strengthen existing ones. By assigning grades (and encouraging, or, in some cases, pestering the student to redo poor work), I’m creating an environment where improvement is forefronted, not just summative assessment.

    The poetry discussion is even more relevant to this topic than it might appear. I don’t assign a sliding scale to student poetry. They either followed the assignment’s directions (like writing a sonnet in the proper format), and they receive an “A,” or they didn’t and they get the zero until they do. I don’t evaluate the content or creativity of the poem at all. I do discuss content and creativity a bunch, however. Here’s how I can give everyone an “A” on a poem, and still have the assignment matter: I publish all the poems in a packet (with names removed). That packet becomes our poetry textbook until the next packet. We can point out the strengths in the student poetry (not weaknesses), and then do something really valid, like divide the class into five miniature poetry magazine editing boards, and each board has to decide which three poems from the packet they would publish and why. As each group discusses their choices, all kinds of good learning is going on about what is effective in the writing.

    It turns out that the kids work harder to improve their writing because of these discussion–they like to hear their own poems mentioned–than they do because of a letter grade that I assign.

    Not doing the weekly poem, however, removes all the value from the packet and the discussion. So, even though the poem assignment is formative, I need to give it value in the gradebook, even if its just a little, otherwise I could end up with what Mz.w suggested, a kid who only does the major assignment at the end but nothing in between.

  7. drpezz Post author

    When I taught Creative Writing, I think I did something similar to what you do. I gave credit or no credit (essentially an ‘A’ or ‘F’) when each skill was shown in each individual poem since I focused on a different skill Monday through Friday with Fridays being free write days. In a week I might teach alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, and simile (reminders really), and the students would get the credit or no credit for the skills shown.

    I also had culminating poems where students chose 8-10 skills to include in one poem, which again was either credit or no credit. We also created portfolios and submitted no name poems for discussion, but each poem showing a skill had to be factored into the grade. Some assignments were just worth more than others.

    I don’t think standards-based grading is perfect for all subjects, especially since it is basically skill-based and I am also responsible for the content of the literature I teach. Thus, I have to have standards for the cultural literacy as well as the skills. Some classes just have to be taught differently.


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