# Fair grading practices (The Case Against Zero)

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Caesar753, Nov 12, 2012.

1. ### Caesar753Multitudinous

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Nov 12, 2012

Last week at my school we had a meeting about fair grading practices. We were discussing the equitable distribution of grades, i.e., making an A worth the same number of points as an F. The argument made by the presenters is that on our current 100-point percentage system, there's a huge disparity between the number of points in an F (0-59) and every other letter grade.

I should point out now that I have always agreed with that claim.

Another teacher brought up the fact that As, Bs, Cs, and Ds are all really the same--they're all passing, just different degrees of passing. He pointed out that on our current 100-point percentage system, roughly half the scale is dedicated to "passing" scores and half to "failing". He further pointed out that when we switch the scale to something with a more equitable distribution among letter grades (rather than between simply passing and failing), the same problem originally meant to be eliminated by this scale is still present--just in reverse, resulting in grade inflation.

His argument made a lot of sense to me. I am now finding my own views on the subject to be sort of flip-floppy and on the fence. Can anyone convince me to land on one side of the fence or the other, solidly and securely, confident in whichever system I choose?

3. ### FourSquareFanatic

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Nov 12, 2012

I don't know. (Honestly.) All my kids are on a modified SPED scale...90-100=A, 80-89=B, 70-79=C, 60-69=D, and below 60=F. I think that's pretty reasonable. Do they really know what they're doing if they can only demonstrate a skill less than 60% of the time? I do weight things different...but with stuff like homework you either do it or you don't. No homework=0. Kids need to make some effort.

4. ### Peregrin5Maven

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Nov 12, 2012

I don't know either. It seems to me like one of the benefits of the current system is that it encourages students to do more than just pass, but also to excel. This is similar to the other thread in which we talk about B's being academic suicide.

It could be due to grade inflation, but anything less than A's aren't acceptable these days in higher learning institutions, and our goal is to prepare students for these institutions (though there is debate on this point as well).

5. ### FourSquareFanatic

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I find even more pressure as a middle school teacher now since my kids will use these grades to apply for selective enrollment high schools. It is highly unlikely they'd get in with B or C averages. Not that I hand out A's...kid's get what they earn...but I suppose it's made me more thoughtful about what and how I grade.

6. ### Caesar753Multitudinous

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This is our regular scale, although we do incorporate a minimum F (50%) on any work that was reasonably attempted. No attempt still earns 0%.

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Caesar, I am in the same boat......I read "The Case Against Zero" article and agree with it. Then I hear/read the counterarguments, and totally agree with them too! I really don't know where I stand on this issue and am looking forward to others' responses

8. ### Caesar753Multitudinous

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In my school, that's not the concern. The concern is that inflating grades is moving students from 35% mastery of a topic into "passing" range.

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This is my current policy. I feel like it maintains a balance between both sides.

10. ### SargeEnthusiast

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Nov 13, 2012

If grades are to be based on skills learned, vs. work completed, then a "zero" would mean zero skills learned.

In standards based grading, a zero grade would then seldom be an accurate reflection of a student's skills because even our lowest performing students rarely learn zero in class. They might behave as if they learned zero, but that is not a accurate measure.

In other words, the student who turns in zero work or just sits there and gets a zero on the test is not giving you an accurate assessment. They may know more than what they demonstrate through the assignment or assessment.

With first grade, we deal with this all the time. A child may know how to read, but not be able to wrap their head around the basic idea of taking a multiple choice test - they mark all the bubbles or choose A for every answer.

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Nov 13, 2012

Work completed is one way students exhibit it the skills learned. The two are not mutually exclusive, they are symbiotic. As you said, if they don't complete the work or tests, then they've not given the teacher any way to assess the skills learned.

There have been some counter-arguments suggesting students should not have to complete homework if they can demonstrate mastery of the material on the test. I disagree because it is only the very rare student that can fully master and understand the material without any practice. So if we just rely on tests, we - and our students - will more likely see they do NOT understand the material as well as they thought, especially app,ications of the material requiring critical thought and application.

For myself, I've begun giving a 50 as my minimum grade IF the student at least tried to do the work. Te only exception to this is a paper handed in with nothing but a list of answers. That earns a 0 because it only shows me the student can use a calculator or copy their friends' paper. They must show some effort on the work and part of that effort includes showing their work.

12. ### RockguykevConnoisseur

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Nov 13, 2012

I do not agree with the assertion that all passing grades are the same. If the logic behind that is "well, they pass the class" then I'd note that in most schools until high school they "pass" with an F too.

I think Sarge is right on with his analysis. What exactly do we want our grades to measure? Is it how much they've learned, how much they've done or how much did they attain some previously decided level of mastery? Of course most of our grades are a mixture of all of these (and sometimes include behavior, participation, and bringing in colored pencils...) leading to the confusion.

An additional problem is the fact that, at least in California, a 70% on the state tests is not just proficient but advanced. Should that then 70% the mastery target or should it be 61% for proficient? Should those both be ignored and use Marzano's 80%?

The fact is today's grading policy is a relic. Just like having 6 rows of 6 desks in an industrial setting is a relic. Nibbling around the edges with ideas like equal grade distribution bands is always going to lead a thoughtful person to confusion because the system is broken.

13. ### catnfiddleModerator

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Nov 13, 2012

My school does really well with a 4-point scale with weights for more complex assignments. For example, a quick multiple choice quiz is worth a weight of 1, but a short answer quiz is a weight of 2. We also throw in pluses and minuses to make it even more fun (I'm so glad the calculations are automatic).

This is similar to what my school uses, but we also have a D- that goes down to a 0.68. We also do not weigh our honors classes, although I think we should.

14. ### Reality CheckHabitué

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Nov 13, 2012

Hmmmmmm.....Sounds similar to my principal's philosophy about social promotion within the school; "What's the difference if we call them 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th graders? They still haven't graduated." Which is how he defends putting 9th graders into an 11th grade class.

It also sounds like a friend's school in New Jersey, where administration has reminded the teachers, "You know, we don't pay you to do math." (Wink-wink.....give a grade that you THINK the student deserves.)

There's been a growing practice over the years of "smoke and mirrors" in education in attempt to hide the lack of effort of students, parents, and administration (up through the superintendents).

15. ### SargeEnthusiast

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Here is what the debate is really about: Should a student's grade reflect mastery of the subject matter, or should it serve as a reward for hard work and effort (or punishment for a lack thereof?)

First of all, I think that those who would advocate giving zeros for work not done, or for tests where no effort was made, see a grade as a carrot and stick to compel otherwise lazy and unmotivated students to perform tasks expected of them.

If a grade is simply a measure of hard work and effort, then does the exceptionallly bright student who can finish in 15 minutes what it takes an ordinary student a hour to do deserve a better grade? After all, the ordinary student is working four times as hard as the exceptional student. His or her grade should be four times better.

When I taught middle school, I had a lot of "very good students" who worked their tails off, but seldom did very well on tests. Back then, however, tests as a means of assessment were considered a no-no. So some of my very hard working studens got good grades, but probably had not mastered the subject matter. Meanwhile, I had some lazy students who would ace the tests and still get D's because they never did any homework.

16. ### Peregrin5Maven

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Nov 13, 2012

Well if it were up to me, it would be the kid who put in the most effort. I can see how much a kid knows by looking at their test scores. I don't need their grades to inform me of their understanding, but since we aim to teach the whole child, effort and intellect not withstanding, it is my philosophy that grades should be earned through hard work. After all many people in later years will use grades to determine if a student is organized and hard-working. They use things like the SAT and the GRE to determine the understanding and intellect of students.

Like you said, grades are usually a mix of a lot of things, including how much they know and how hard they work.

17. ### a2zVirtuoso

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Nov 13, 2012

But again, it goes back to that exceptionally bright and rapid fast student that can finish the 20 problem math sheet in 5 minutes instead of the 30 minutes allotted for completion. If the teacher doesn't have enough "hard work" available for the student, how can that student show the hard work to earn the good grade?

Effort does not always mean accuracy. So that really fast student that completed all of the problems accurately didn't work hard to do so. The student was just highly capable. That student that struggled all 30 minutes and still got 5 wrong worked so much harder but mastered less of the material. How would student A get a good grade if it was the amount of hard work done that determined the grade? 5 minutes of effortless math isn't hard work.

18. ### ShanooHabitué

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Nov 13, 2012

I teach junior high. Grades 7, 8 and 9 Math. Our 7s and 8s are on an A,B,C,D scale. Our 9s are on a numerical scale, where they get a percent.

For our 7s and 8s, A means they've mastered all of the content. B means they've mastered most, C means they've mastered some and D means they've mastered very little. When we mark assignments for our 7s and 8s NOTHING is graded numerically. There is no counting up the questions they got right, etc. It's a gut feeling. Do YOU feel they mastered all, most, some or little? Then, when report card time rolls around, based on those assignment marks, how much of the entire course do you feel they've mastered? Passing or failing the year is a separate conversation that we have at the end of the year, after our marks are submitted. We discuss each student in terms of whether we feel they have mastered ENOUGH of the content to be successful the following year. Again, it's a judgement call, backed up with evidence from student work.

Now, our Grade 9s are graded numerically. I don't look at it as there is a disproportionate percent of the grade that is failing (F is 50% of the pie, for example, with A, B, C and D having a 12.5% share). I see it as similar to our Grade 7 and 8 system, except with numbers. A student who gets 30% on an assignment has mastered 30% of the content. A student who gets 85% has mastered 85% of the content.

Now, someone, somewhere, has decided that you need to have mastered at least 50% of the content in order to have a chance at success at the next level. It's not a punishment for stupidity or unintelligence, or laziness. It just is. You can't run until you learn to walk. That doesn't mean that there is a stigma attached to babies who aren't walking yet. They just haven't mastered that particular skill. It also doesn't mean they won't get there.

Now, in terms of giving 0, my policy is such. I don't give a zero until the very last second. The grades for our first report are due tomorrow morning. Those students who haven't handed in work had until the end of the day today to get those assignments in. Those who didn't will get a 0. Why? Because they haven't shown mastery on that assignment as of this date. Therefore, it will reflect as such on this report. Now, if they hand me in those assignments tomorrow? I'll mark them. For full credit. But I won't change THIS report's mark. It will be reflected on next report. Why? Because it was during next report's time that they showed the mastery (at whatever percent mastered they can do).

19. ### orangeteaConnoisseur

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It would be the kids who aced the tests, because they are the ones who understood the material. However, if they did not homework or other assignments, their grades should be reduced.

In my class, homework is worth 10% of the term grade, while tests and quizzes at 90%. A student who does no homework (which is important to reinforce skills and to attempt critical thinking problems which may not be tested) will not earn an A if they choose not to complete the assignments. If a student can ace tests with zero work outside of class, they should probably be bumped up a level.

A student should not be able to get an A just because he/she tries hard. Homework is my effort grade, because I just check for completion. It's important that a student's grade represents the student's mastery of the material so that we can place them in the correct level next year. If a student gets an A in 8th grade math just because of effort and not mastery, he will struggle in 9th grade math.

20. ### BrendanFanatic

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Nov 13, 2012

Call me old fashioned, but I think grades can and should reflect something more than mastery in high school and middle school. I think students need to be taught how to achieve mastery (via completing homework accurately and correctly in the humanities) and this should be factored into their grade.

21. ### bondoCohort

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Good arguments by both sides. Does anyone think that maybe we schools use the system they have because that is what is at the next level? Colleges are more strict than high school, but the same idea prevails. I don't know if I would argue for a change in college grading. Students need to have a certain level of mastery when entering a profession. If high school work if prep for college work, then shouldn't the grading scale be similar? (I am on the fence of whether or not high school's goal should be college prep. I think I lean more towards "world" prep, with options for classes that are geared toward college level work.)

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If we have to meet state benchmarks at 80% or higher then students have to obtain 80% or better or it's an "I" for Incomplete. There are no other grades or percentages needed.

23. ### catnfiddleModerator

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Nov 13, 2012

Wow, that's rough! Is this for all grades or are only certain grades tested?

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When it comes to the question of "Why do I have to do homework?" in math, I often use a sports analogy. Every student in the class knows how to shoot a free throw, but some are much better than others because they have spent more time practicing and improving the skill. In any content class, the students have to practice with the material to become proficient with it.

The same sports analogy holds true in the argument of grades measuring "mastery of content" vs "work done to practice content". I don't think anyone would dispute that Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan were masters of their craft - but all three STILL had to practice their skills constantly to continue improving their skill. Michael Jordan was explosive going to the basket, but he also got hammered by opposing players every time he drove to the basket, so he learned that he had to add weight training to his regimen to increase his body mass and strength to endure the punishment he was going to receive. Lebron and Kobe were both explosive players as well, but neither went to college where they would have been forced to work on other skills like outside jump shots. As a result, they were still somewhat one-dimensional when they first entered the NBA and - as good as they both were - they both eventually realized they had to improve those other skills to become a true master of the game.

The point is that everyone can benefit from practice. For some, it is just honing skills they already have. For most, though, the practice is essential to reach an acceptable level of proficiency so they can advance to the next level.

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Continuing with a sports analogy, would we support the mother who came tearing down the bleachers demanding that her darling get a point for TRYING to make a basket but failing to do so? It's so not fair (whine whine) that her child not get a point for trying when he worked so hard. . . it's not fair that his results be calculated like the results of the kids who have better skills. Sure, the better kids practiced a lot while Billy here blew it off and played all day, but even so. Doesn't EVERY kid deserve points for trying really hard during the actual game? And what if no amount of hard work will make Billy hit that basket? A pity point? For sports?

Absolutely not. It would be ridiculous.

And yet, we hand pity points out for academics all the time, for pretty much the same things.

The best actors get the leads. The best musicians get the spotlight. The best athletes get to start. Sure, we cheer and support the kids who are led around by the hand (literally and figuratively) and rightly so, but the real points/leads/spotlights are for those who practiced when the others played video games, and actually EARNED them.

Self esteem is earned, too, or it's just a joke. Every kid in the world knows this; why is it so hard for some adults? A trophy for showing up and trying hard is a boost for Mom and Dad, not the kid. The kids know who earned the trophies; the parents just want their kid to have one.

After all those athletic awards programs at the MS, I used to hear the kids laughing in the restrooms and halls. They knew who really earned the awards, even if their parents were ecstatic at Billy's getting one for sitting.

I can always tell when my college freshmen graduated via effort and genuine learning, and when they got a diploma, a pat on the back for trying, and a sigh of relief that they're finally gone. We have open enrollment. Sometimes it's a good thing; sometimes it isn't. At this level, each individual student has to prove knowledge and understanding. Showing up and talking big doesn't cut it here. Blowing off class for vacations and sleeping in and better-things-that-came-up don't cut it, either. Great tickets to Cancun the week before or after Spring Break? Life is full of choices. You would not BELIEVE the whining - often from their parents.

In the lounge, we sigh and say these students are here via the "Parental Fantasy Plan."

It starts when they're little.

26. ### JustMeVirtuoso

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Nov 15, 2012

I agree, Mamacita!

27. ### ShanooHabitué

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You're absolutely right. I hear kids joke about it all the time. I had a student last week come to me with a math problem he had tried. He had made a few mistakes and we worked it out together. I told him that he had had the right idea, but made a few missteps along the way. He kinda laughed, with a sheepish smirk on his face and said "well, I'll still get my trophy" and went back to his seat. The kids know it's a joke.

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It's complex in that the grade should really indicate the degree of mastery, in my opinion. It is also hard to tell what constitutes a "reasonable attempt". I think we have all had students who would do something exceptionally rushed, demonstrating no effort, and turn it in. In this case, I definitely don't think the student should receive a grade higher than a zero or at few points above. I personally always think about it as preparing the kids for the real world. In the real world, an employer won't care that the worker made an attempt. She/he will be looking for something appropriately successful. If we teach students that attempts are as good as successes, it seems that we may run the risk of establishing this false impression.

29. ### SargeEnthusiast

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Nov 15, 2012

I think that a student who makes zero attempt to do an in-class assignment is a classroom management and behavior issue.

If I have a student who has assigned work they are required to use their class time to do it. They are not allowed to sit and do nothing without recieving some sort of consequence.

30. ### catnfiddleModerator

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Since ALL my assignments are de facto homework, I try to see the smaller ones as the formative, short-cycle assessments. It's how I know the students are gaining enough understanding of the material before they leap straight into the summative assessment. In other words, if they don't turn in the homework, I have no idea how to fix what might go wrong when they take the test / attempt the project.

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Nov 15, 2012

And if the student doesn't care about the consequences?

32. ### 2ndTimeAroundPhenom

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I had a principal once that told me that if I assigned something it must be valuable. Therefore, a student did not have the option of blowing it off. If one decided to sit there and do nothing, then I should call an adminstrator and have him escorted to the office.

I asked him to repeat himself to make sure I heard him correctly. I did. That very afternoon a student refused to work. I called him and he came and took the student away. That student worked for the remainder of the semester. But a week later when I called for an admin it was an AP that responded. She looked at me like I grew an extra head. She took the kid but later I got my butt chewed big time for calling her. That student continued to sleep for the semester.

Very few high school students that would blow off an assignment while IN CLASS would care about consequences. Assign a detention? Don't show. Call home? Well, the parents that would typically raise a student with so little respect for education aren't likely to care much about such a call. Or if they do, they don't have much influence over the child. Referral? Only works if the adminstration realizes that such support is really needed.

It might be a huge problem that some teachers have with classroom management. But I have to admit, I'm really tired of losing so much time in class harping on the 1/3 of the students that just won't work unless a cattle prod is taken to them. It isn't fair for the other students that are willing to work and want to do well.