Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Grading/Zeroes

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Zeroes and Missing Work[edit | edit source]

By: jroer001

Learning Target[edit | edit source]

1. Students should be able to describe the reasons for and against allowing students to make up work or giving them zeros

2. Students should be able to identify the effect zeros have on the grades of students.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

One of the difficult decisions that a teacher must make is to determine whether they will give students zeroes for any work they are missing or allow them to make it up for at least partial credit. The purpose of this article is to examine the issues surrounding this decision to help new teachers determine which approach they will decide to take.

For Zeroes: “I’m not accepting late work”[edit | edit source]

Dana Camp, a high school chemistry teacher, says, “Every year, when the leaves turn and the coats come out of storage, the barrage of phone calls, e-mails, and parent conferences start. Although grades have been communicated numerous times during the semester, all now want to know, “What can my student do to pass the class””(Barlow & Camp, 2005)?

As a teacher myself, I have seen this same scenario take place at the end of each nine weeks at my school. There will be students who have not completed a few or many assignments who would like to have the opportunity to make up the missing work for at least partial credit versus having a zero for the assignments.

I have met many teachers at the school I work at who do not believe in accepting late work and who feel that students should not be rewarded with partial credit for turning in late work. These teachers say that even though a zero will dramatically affect a student’s average in class, that the zero is what they earned by not performing the work which was expected of them on time. I spoke with one of these teachers, David Baer, who feels that these students actually earned a zero. David Baer said, “In the real world, if you do not turn in a project done well and on time, it could cost you your job. It is important for the students to learn this lesson now rather than in the future where their livelihood is at stake” (personal communication, July 13, 2008).

David Baer also mentioned that he already “drops a couple of the lowest assignment grades, so the students who typically do their work will not be hit hard in their grade if they only miss a couple assignments”(personal communication, July 13, 2008). Due to the fact that he already drops some assignments, David feels that by “giving all students a 60% instead of a zero for missed assignments will allow students who don’t do any work to have a really good chance of passing instead of getting the F they deserve”(personal communication, July 13, 2008).

Against Zeroes: “I accept work late for some credit”[edit | edit source]

There are many teachers who believe in accepting late work from students and more importantly, they feel that teachers should not give zeroes to students.

Elderine Wyrick says, “It is common for instructors to give zeros for late or incomplete assignments. Unfortunately, few educators or parents question the validity or usefulness of the practice, and students continue to reap the consequences without benefit. Giving zeros as an academic measurement is inequitable and produces failure rather than performance.” (Wyrick, 2005)

Elderine also states that, “Grades should measure academic learning”(Wyrick, 2005). She said that getting a zero for “failing to do a homework does not reflect a student’s lack of knowledge. Such issues are behavior responses not academic. Zeros promote failure rather that the student gaining more knowledge” (Wyrick, 2005). Finally, she says, “The zero forces failure and is not an evenhanded measurement of learning”(Wyrick, 2005).

Rick Wormeli, a middle school teacher, consultant, and author, believes teachers should give students 60s instead of zeros. He says, “When we turn students’ zeroes into 60s in our gradebooks, we are not giving students something for doing nothing. We’re adjusting the grade intervals so that any averaging we do is mathematically justified. More important, in the overall pattern of grades, it presents a more accurate picture of the student’s ability”(Wormeli, 2006).

Wormeli states that “A zero has am undeserved and devastating effect on students and their grades – so much so that no matter what the student does, the grade distorts the final grade as a true indicator of mastery. Mathematically and ethically this is unacceptable”(Wormeli, 2006). To further make his point, Wormeli used a quote from Virginia Beach School Board member Emma L. Davis from the June 29, 2006 issue of The Virginian-Pilot where she said, “Consider trying to find the average temperature over five days and recording 85, 82, 83, and 86, then forgetting a day and recording a zero. The average temperature would be 67, a figure that does not accurately show the weather from that week. If those temperatures were grades, a student would fail after consistently earning Bs and Cs”(Wormeli, 2006).

Finally, Wormeli says, “At this year’s NMSA conference in Philadelphia, assessment expert Rick Stiggins made the point with his insightful reminder that we should assess for learning, not just do assessments of learning. It’s not enough to measure and report student’s mastery of standards. We have to use assessment data in ways that motivate students to learn and grow”(Wormeli, 2006).

Example[edit | edit source]

The example I have chosen to show you is a table showing the effect of a zero on a student’s grade versus giving them a 60. This example comes from Rick Wormeli’s article, “Teaching in the Middle”.

As you can see, the table shows test scores for six tests where one test grade is a zero and the remaining five were 100%. When those are averaged together, you get an 83%. The next row shows the effect of putting a 60% in for the zero on the test average. The average with the 60% in for the zero with the five 100% is a 93%. In the Newport News Public School grading scale, this would be a difference in the student receiving a B- versus an A-.

Based on the research I have done, this is a good example because it does show the significant effect that a zero has on a student’s grades. The question is not whether a zero has a great effect on a student’s grades though, but whether or not a teacher or school system believes that this is a fair portrayal of the student’s grade due to the student not completing the work that was expected of them.

References[edit | edit source]

Barlow, J. & Camp, D. (2005). Should teachers let failing students pass by doing an "extra credit" assignment. NEA Today. Retrieved July 10, 2008 from

Wormeli, R. (2006). Teaching in the Middle. Middle Ground. 9(3) 12-15. Retrieved July 10, 2008 from

Wyrick, E. (2005). Is giving zeros as an academic measurement ethical? Teacher website. Retrieved July 10, 2008 from

Multiple Choice Questions[edit | edit source]

1. In the article “Teaching in the Middle,” Rick Wormeli states that you should replace ____________ with _______________.

a. A’s with F’s

b. F’s with A’s

c. Sixties with zeros

d. Zeros with sixties

2. According to Elderine Wyrick in the article “Is giving zeros as an academic measurement ethical,” she says that zeros promote ___________________.

a. Competitiveness

b. Failure

c. Learning

d. Success

3. One reason David Baer gave for assigning students zeroes is

a. It is easier for the teacher to grade

b. It will not really affect their grade

c. It will prepare them for the real world

d. The students were going to do bad anyway

4. A student received a 0 on one test and an 84, 92, 97, 99, and a 95 on other tests, what would their test average be?

a. 75.5%

b. 77.8%

c. 79%

d. 93.4%

5. A student received a 60 on one test and an 84, 92, 97, 99, and a 95 on other tests, what would their test average be?

a. 82.3%

b. 85.5%

c. 87.8%

d. 91.2%

Answers 1. d. 2. b. 3. c. 4. b. 5. c.