Monday, April 3, 2017

Ban the Zero

I've long opposed grades. Through learning in +Russ Walsh's class (follow him on Twitter) at St. Joe's University and by reading Alfie Kohn's work,  I began to see the folly of most of our grading practices. In my 4th year teaching, I stopped giving grades. Any reason given by grading advocates for grades, I proved wrong in my classroom. For those worried that kids wouldn't work hard, I can assure you they did.  I didn't give them and my students (the vast majority of them at least) didn't miss them.

After giving no grades for 22 years, I started giving grades last year. Don't think this is because I suddenly changed my mind, but because my school required me to. I was now teaching in the High School! It's Serious! I actually understand the reluctance to give up grading and no one forced me to leave my non-grading 5th grade classroom to teach older kids and so I've made my peace with grading, at least for now. I think they're dumb, punitive and useless. But apart from that, I'm okay with them!

Okay, there's so much I still don't like about grades. But one of the things I loathe the most is when teachers give students the dreaded zero. Please don't give zeroes. Please don't give zeroes. They are always punitive. This practice allows for one missed assignment or terrible test to artificially lower an accurate assessment of student performance which is what a grade is supposed to be a shorthand for. For a longer rant, I could go rave for a long while on the foolish and arbitrary tyranny of the average as a gauge of student understanding. but I'll spare you.

Remember, we have 40 ways for a student to pass and 60 ways for a student to fail. Stop and think about that for a moment. Really, what kind of system does that?

In response, some thoughtful schools have implemented no zero policies, but policymakers in stome districts such as this have weighed in banning this practice. The worry is about "accountability". It's these same folks who criticize the "everyone gets a trophy" practice because we are telling kids they all are winners!   Of course, no study has ever shown students are motivated to learn after being punished and being told they are losers. And I can't imagine students are all that eager to learn after a zero makes it almost impossible for them to achieve good marks.

This article by Guskey in Educational Leadership gives a nice overview to how our current grading system evolved. This blogpost highlights another of Guskey's articles on myths surrounding grades.
My favorite quote from this article is this,

"Unfortunately for students, the best means of maximizing differences in learning is poor teaching. Nothing does it better."

If you think about it at all, you know he's right. Doesn't a good teacher try to target the students who do not understand to pull them along? Doesn't a good teacher try to make it so the vast majority of students are able to meet success? Are we trying to sort kids or teach them?

If I can't convince you to stop grading, please at least stop giving zeroes. They tell us nothing about student learning. Even if you are of the traditional bent and believe that students who do no work deserve no credit, consider this article by Douglas Reeves in Phi Beta Kappa.

(by the way, I'm starting to play with Canva to make blog graphics for my blog. I'm jealous of the crispness of Jennifer Gonzalez's blog and am trying to spiffy things up. I'm also not loving my new blog design and likely will change it in several days.

And thanks for reading.

No Zeroes by Alex McDonnell

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