no-zeros proposal is no good

I stumbled across this article the other day:

Chillicothe Schools Consider No-Zero Grade Proposal

Basically, a school district in Ohio is thinking of setting a grade floor of 50%, so that teachers can no longer assign grades between 0 and 49%.

Assistant Superintendent Jon Saxton proposed the idea of a no-zero policy to get students to do their school work.

Chillicothe Board of Education and administration say not all students are aiming high and they want to change that by removing what they consider a harmful practice.

“We look at the practice of giving students zeros for work that’s not completed and it’s punitive, as it, it’s like an F to the sixth degree, because the grade that’s given for a zero is six times greater than the work that’s poorly done,“ Saxton said.

Incoming freshman Emily Gray said she thinks the no-zero policy is a good idea because it will help students to pass their classes.

There are two arguments in favor of this proposal at work in the article. Neither is any good.

1. School officials claim that students would work harder, because failing classes or receiving zeros for skipped assignments hurts morale.

My question is this: if they care so0000 much about motivation and kids skipping assignments or school, then why not change the real culprits – tyrannical teachers, curriculum that seems useless, demeaning behavior management policies, and the list goes on… As long as these negative factors pervade compulsory public schools, students will continue to fail. On top of that, the way students are often treated in schools is a moral abomination (will have to write an entire post on that sometime), and wouldn’t be justified even if the schools were succeeding by educational measures. But they aren’t – education data is dismal. So, to suggest that the no-zero policy will fix motivation problems is like suggesting to fix the Titanic with duct tape.

2. School officials claim that currently, the threshold for earning a passing grade is disproportionately high, because there is a 59-point range for Fs and only 10-point ranges between the other letter grades.

This feature of the letter grading system is there for a reason – you need to get at least 60% of the work correct in order to pass or get a D, because anything less than that doesn’t deserve to pass. The zeros aren’t necessarily meant to be “punitive” as the man quoted alleged; instead, it is just common sense that there is a bigger difference between doing nothing and passing than between earning a B and earning a C, which could be a much finer distinction. On the contrary to his point of view, it would be much less intuitive to have the no-zero policy than current letter grade policies.

Even those criticisms notwithstanding, the injustice of this potential policy runs even deeper.

The girl mentioned in the quote above has got things figured out: she likes the policy because it would “help students to pass their classes.” Indeed, it would probably raise the schools’ graduation rates without necessarily changing a single thing about how much students are learning. This might make the schools eligible for various funding opportunities or awards. School districts that retained the sensible, standard grading scale would have their students put at a competitive disadvantage. The students would be competing against no-zero policy students for college scholarships and admittance. The no-zero policy would clearly be unfair, and the injustices it would cause against many other students could outweigh the benefits alleged by its supporters (assuming those benefits were realized, which they probably won’t be anyway, for the reasons above in 1).

Handing students (many) free points unfairly is not going to solve the real and pressing problem that “not all students are aiming high.” A no-zero policy itself makes a mockery of “aiming high” by lowering the bar but keeping the same grade labels. Better get back to the drawing board, Chillicothe educators.

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