averaging in zeros

What about those zeros in the grade book?

As we know, it is quite common for a teacher to issue a zero for missing, neglected, or late work.  However, does the zero actually reflect what the student has learned or can do? 

Furthermore, when we consider the practice of averaging scores, is it mathematically accurate to include the zero?  The weight of a zero is so much more powerful than anything above 60 resulting in the near impossibility for a student to compensate for that zero by receiving high marks on subsequent assignments.  A zero unfairly skews the average.  Imagine a weatherman is recording daily high temperatures in order to calculate the average high temperature for the week but he misses the reading for Wednesday.  Would he just put in a zero for that day?  So why do teachers think it is OK to include zeros for missing assignments when averaging scores?

It seems zeros are then assigned in order to punish students for missing, neglected or late work.  If grades are used as a punishment then how can they be an accurate communication of achievement?  Is the punishment supposed to motivate students to reform?  I don’t think anyone anywhere can find evidence that demonstrates that zeros and low grades encourage students to complete work.  Grading gurus such as Ken O’Conner and Thomas Guskey would argue that assigning zeros actually lowers motivation and inhibits student learning (O'Conner) (Guskey).  So why do we do it?

I am a firm believer that if a student has not completed the work, then an “Incomplete” should be awarded until the work is complete.  If I don’t have enough evidence to properly assess a student’s achievement levels, then I will record an “I”.

For late work we need to find other consequences.  I’m still trying to find the perfect solution for this.  We have been trying to find a satisfying, fair, manageable, and consistent manner to distribute consequences for late work.  We tried a lunch homework detention but that was ineffective due to time constraints.  In one of my classes the fear of being assigned to scrub the lab floors and lab benches has kept late work at a near zero.   This segues into a discussion on motivation, doesn’t it?

For now, however, I’d like us to reconsider the practice of incorporating zeros into averages.  Do we really think it is a fair and accurate practice for reporting on student learning and achievement?  I, personally, do not.


Connor, Ken. How to grade for learning, K-12. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin, 2009. Print.

Guskey, Thomas R.. Practical solutions for serious problems in standards-based grading. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2009. Print.



A "B" or a "C" for a student with missing work?

What do you think?  Give a “B” or a “C” to a student with missing work?

A student has scored “B” average on all assessments; however, the student has several missing homework assignments.  The student was given all sorts of warnings and opportunities to make up the missing work.   If the teacher places a “0” for each missing assignment the student’s average becomes a “C” even though the student has demonstrated a “B” achievement level.  Should the student receive a “B” or a “C”?

My colleague came to me with her conundrum.  We looked at PowerSchool together.  There was clearly enough evidence, even with the missing assignments to determine that the student had, indeed, achieved the “B”.   However, what to do with those missing assignments?  The teacher really wanted to communicate to the student the importance of the work and the need to put forth effort but she didn’t want it to be in the form of a punishment of lowering the overall grade.  She also had the official effort assessment to record.  This information accompanies the grade in all subject areas where a “1” reflects high effort and a “5” achieves little or no effort (see descriptors below).  Personally, I think the effort category should be the reflector of the effort in the classroom while the grade ought to be an indicator of achievement and I supported this teacher’s desire to ensure her grades were an accurate communication of performance.

In the end she decided to remove the “0”s from the averaging and award a “4” for an effort grade.  This morning she entered my classroom gleaming and absolutely elated about some outcome.  She proceeded to describe how the student had approached her about the “4” in her effort grade.  They read the descriptors together and then had a real conversation about the missing work and learning behaviors.  My colleague said it was the first time that she really connected with this student and the student completely agreed with the “4” level awarded for effort.  Furthermore, at the end of the conversation the student expressed that her goal for this quarter was to work at a “2” all the time.   “I feel so good” my colleague shared.  Truly, she was glowing. 

I asked her if I could blog about this experience and she replied, “Yes, you can blog about it! I love being a teacher!”

In my opinion, my colleague is completely fair and accurate in her grading.  The grades are not a punishment nor are they a reward – they simply reflect accomplishment.   Thus, they are not a point of discussion or contention.  The needed conversation ended up being about how the student can improve her learning behaviors and thereby become a better learner.  Really, given the situation, can it get any better than that?  No wonder my colleague felt “so good” and her love for teaching was affirmed.

In my opinion, standards based grading is the way to go.  Period.


Current Effort Grade Descriptors (though I think these need a work over themselves----I’ll save that for another blog post)

1 -- Sets challenging goals and sustains a strong commitment to them.  Consistently attempts the highest possible personal standard of work. Consistently meets or exceeds classroom expectations. (On time, prepared, and focused).

2 -- Often demonstrates attempts to do his/her best work.  Often meets classroom expectations (On time, prepared, and focused).

3 -- Works to ability, but is satisfied with meeting minimal work requirements.  Usually meets classroom expectations (On time, prepared, and focused).

4 -- Consistently does not work to ability.  Often fails to meet classroom expectations (Student fails to be on time, prepared, and/focused).

5 -- Fails to work to ability level.  Makes excuses for lack of effort.  Little or no effort to meet classroom expectations (Student fails to be on time, prepared, and/or focused).