In Assessment, Zero Can Still Be a Hero

According to grade guru Ken O’Connor, in his book A Repair Kit for Grading, “grades are broken when they include penalties for student work submitted late. Penalties distort the achievement record the grade is intended to communicate, can actually harm student motivation, and for many students do not result in changes in behavior” (p.24).

And I understand where this is coming from. Yes, giving a student a low score for not submitting an assignment means the student’s overall average is irreversibly tanked. Furthermore, how can a grade even be attached to something that hasn’t even been turned in? Literally a grade is being assigned to nothing.

Instead, grade experts like O’Connor and Thomas Guskey recommend that teachers take other actions. O’Connor suggests steps such as:

  • assigning non-grade related consequences,
  • getting parents involved, and
  • having students come in to your class after school or during lunch to complete their missing work

Basically, a teacher should take every step they can to get the work in.

And I agree wholeheartedly with this advice. It’s just good teaching practice to chase after kids who haven’t handed in their work.

Having said that, I think zero still has a role to play.

For students who are chronically late with work, or those who are really good at avoiding after-school and lunch work time, a zero can help turn things around. A zero dropped into the grade book gets a student’s attention, and sparks some action, very quickly. Nothing is quite as shocking like seeing your 95 drop to a 70!

When I do employ a zero, it’s for motivational purposes only. I do not leave the zero there for long. After all, I am not trying to punish tardy students, I’m just trying to get their attention in the short term and, hopefully, make some sort of change in terms of their bad habits.  

Another positive about a zero is that parents notice also. My school’s gradebook is shared online with students and their parents. Sudden drops in grades are noticed and parents get involved. On one occasion, I entered a zero for a student who was late with an assignment. Literally 10 seconds after the zero dropped, I received an email from the parent. It was amazing!

Ironically, students who hand in work weeks late don’t seem to have any patience when it comes to having their work assessed. Too often has a student submitted a piece of late work only to ask, minutes later, why their grade hasn’t been changed yet.

So, although the role of zero has – and should – change in assessment, zero shouldn’t disappear. If used carefully, that nothing can still do something!

Ed Ex!

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