What a Zero Really Means – Cherra-Lynne Olthof

This is only an excerpt. CLICK HERE for original post!

What a 0 really says…..

Dorval says he thinks the policy is linked to a self-esteem factor.  That somehow a student will give up if they get a 0.  But make no mistake, getting the 0 doesn’t cause them to give up.  They choose to take the 0 because they’ve already given up.  I’ve found that in my experience a student would rather get a 0 then a 23%.  There’s an old saying that it’s better to be thought a fool then to say something and prove it.  Well, for some kids they would rather be THOUGHT a failure then do the assignment and prove it.  A 0 is easy to take and it’s easy to defend.  That’s not the crushing blow.  The crushing blow is actually doing the assignment and failing it.  So what’s the alternative?  I’m just not going to do it.  I’m going to fail it anyways so why bother?

GIVE ME THESE KIDS!  PLEASE!  Give me the kids who think they are failures and so have chosen to not do the work.  Because that’s really what a 0 means for a lot of them.  The 0 says, “I’m scared of doing this and finding out I’m a failure.”

My husband and I are both teachers.  We discuss this on a regular basis.  I have a legal obligation to report what your child knows about the content of the curriculum.  This is all I can do.  How much I like your child can’t factor in.  How many hours your kid puts into their assignment can’t factor in.  How many assignments your child turned in out of the ten I assigned can’t factor in.  All that matters is what your child has proven to me about his knowledge.

Sometimes a kid earns a true and honest 0.  After doing the project or writing the test they have actually scored a real 0.  I think I can count on 1 hand the number of times I’ve ever had this happen in my 11 year teaching career but if this is the case, then yes a 0 is justified.  You know 0% of this content and I can prove it.  I have evidence.

My husband and I also admit that giving 0′s is often a tracking system to report back to parents what the child has and has not done.  Ok, fair enough.  I don’t really agree with it but if this is a tracking system then that’s fine and even as a parent I don’t have an issue with that.  HOWEVER….if a kid does none of the assignments I have given and he writes a 98% on the unit exam, I’m giving him a 98% in the course.  If I start averaging in those 0′s and now suddenly he’s at a 42% I am reporting false information about what your child knows.  I am saying he only knows 42% of the content when in fact he knows 98% of it.

I’m not a fan of averaging.  I never have been.  Ask anyone who failed their drivers test the first three times (I know people who have, seriously).  Should those marks be averaged out?  If so some people would never get their license.  Do I get a golden license because I passed my test the first time?  Of course not.  Does your license look different because you took three chances?  Or if you failed it the first time should that be it?  Your chance is over.  You failed.  No license for you……EVER!  Should I give you a zero because you missed your bus on the way to your test and failed to show up for it on time?

We have to ask ourselves, what is the purpose of giving assignments?  I give assignments along the way to check up on the learning that I’m hoping is taking place.  It’s actually more for me then for my students.  It tells me if I’m doing my job.  It tells me if the kids are getting it or if I need to stop and go back.  A kid fails to do the assignment?  Well I have no way to know where his learning is then, and that will have it’s own natural consequences later on when he writes the test of does the project.  I don’t need to give him a zero now.  Especially if the kid understands what the purpose of an assignment is.  They are check points to see how you are doing as you work your way along.  You miss the check point?  Well, I can’t help you much then.  Especially if you keep missing them.  I’m awfully busy with the kids that are stopping at the check points and asking for help.  And to be honest, some kids don’t need the check points.  They cruise right along.  We often refer to these kids as the “independent learners” and I’m ok with that.

What it ultimately comes down to is their final proof of knowledge.  I give an assignment/project/test designed to assess what they really know.  And if a kid misses that…..?

How do I deal with kids who don’t do their work?  I give out something called an Insufficient.  People have told me this is a fancy way of saying 0 but it really isn’t.  When I write INS on an outcome what I’m saying is, “I have no idea if your child can do this or not.  I have no evidence with which to make this judgement.”  That is much different then giving out a 0 which says, “Your child knows 0% of the content of this subject.”  But what a statement to make!

All kids learn.  They learn at different rates and at different times, but they all learn.  You have to really try hard to get an honest 0 in my classroom.


One thought on “What a Zero Really Means – Cherra-Lynne Olthof

  1. Great post – I couldn’t agree more. Before moving to my current position in central admin, I had many conversations regarding zeros with teachers and colleagues. It is an area of needed reform.

    One thing I did was to use a true 10 point scale. For instance, if an ‘A’ was 90 – 100 then an ‘F’ should be 60-70 … the lowest failing grade a student could receive would be a 60. This seemed to satisfy those teachers who were “teaching responsibility” but didn’t skew grades to the point that evaluating based on curriculum objectives was not possible.

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