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That Zero Changed My Life! Said No Student Ever.

By Brad Currie posted 03-05-2019 12:27

Reflecting on an article I keep seeing on social media about the teacher getting fired for supposedly not abiding by the school’s grading policy. As a student, did I ever get a zero? Sure. Was it right? I guess. As a teacher, did some of my students receive zeros? Probably. Was it right? Probably not. As an instructional leader do I support the idea of students receiving zeros? In most cases, the answer is no. The bottom line is that we must exhaust all options to promote the success of each and every student regardless of how much they are driving us crazy or might seem too lazy to complete any work. I can remember as a teacher and team leader working with a small group of 7th grade students during my lunch. They had lost their way and learning was not a top top priority due to extenuating circumstances at home. They would come into my classroom and complete work that was way overdue in several of their classes. Over time they started to catch up and realized that we were not going to let them dig a deeper hole for themselves.

​Often I think we as educators believe it’s easier to teach students a life lesson by giving them a zero because we need to prepare them for the real world. When in fact we need to think about building supportive and engaging learning environments that not only show students that we care about them but also holds everyone accountable. I can remember as a student sitting out the first half of a basketball game because I was not holding up my end of a bargain. You know what? I deserved it. In more recent years, both as a teacher and administrator, there were a few occasions where students were not being responsible and they needed to be held accountable. Did that mean I got a zero? No. Something that meant so much to me was taken away for short while. I still needed to make up the work and learn the material.

The whole zero thing is an easy way out for all parties involved. Now, if there is a point where all options have been exhausted and nothing has changed than we can have a discussion about who deserves what grade. The research is very clear in this area of education. John Hattie tells us that that a teachers estimate of student achievement has a 1.29 effect size. Additionally, Hattie tells us that teacher credibility has a .90 effect size. The research makes it abundantly clear that if teachers believe their students can achieve desired learning outcomes they will. On that same note, students know if you as a teacher are legit and subsequently will either rise to the occasion or not really care about learning. Students also know if you as an instructional leader are legit as it relates to keeping a pulse on what is or is not going on in school.

The important thing here is to keep having these sorts of conversations with your colleagues, school stakeholders, and most importantly students. Take a look at my friend Eric Sheninger’s blog post on a similar topic from back in 2013: 

Keep fighting the good fight my friends!
1 comment



03-19-2019 19:04

Thanks for sharing, Brad.  I would love to work with a team on this platform to redesign grading practices which spotlight a student's growth rather than penalize a student for struggles along way.  Critical to that conversation will be stakeholders from higher education.  High school districts struggle with implementing new practices that may put students at a disadvantage when it comes to the college admissions process.