June 29, 2005

A limited tolerance for zeroes

Despite the recent Praxis flap, it's apparent that at least some teachers understand mathematical concepts like averages:

Some teachers, aware of the devastating effects that one zero can have on a studentís final grade and recognizing the string of perfect scores necessary to negate it, have simply stopped logging zeros. Instead, at some schools, the lowest score students can receive is as high as 50 or 60 Ė even if they donít turn in assignments.

The practice challenges a long-held philosophy that if you donít do the work, you donít get the grade.

In an article for the education journal Phi Delta Kappan , Douglas Reeves wrote that a zero for work that is not turned in is punished much more severely than work ďthat is done wretchedly and is worth a D.Ē

And Reeves' problem with that is? Certainly, a student might have a valid reason for not turning in an assignment, and teachers should have the freedom to extend deadlines. But to simply blow off an assignment shows contempt for the teacher and the class, and students should suffer the consequences. What's more, if a struggling student knows that the difference between (a) ignoring an assignment and (b) struggling with the assignment and failing at it is a mere 10 points or so, why do the assignment at all?

And speaking of math, note that a school board member had to provide a specific example so everyone could understand the concept that averages are affected by outliers:

Virginia Beach School Board member Emma L. Davis offered this example: Consider trying to find the average temperature over five days and recording 85, 82, 83 and 86, then forgetting a day and recording 0. 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 Bís and Cís.

Pardon my French, but no s--t. But if there are only five assignments in a semester or school year, and a student completely blows off one of them (or 20%, for those math-challenged folks), one could argue that the student deserves to fail the class. If I blew off one-fifth of what my boss asked me to do, I'd be looking for a new job pretty soon. Yes, some students will forget to turn things in, and teachers should be prepared to deal with that in a non-punitive way (constant reminders, stretching deadlines a tad, etc.) But a student who just doesn't bother to turn something in? Stamp a big ol' red zero in the grade book and move on.

I agree that, in the example above, the grade of 67 above is not necessarily a good estimator of the student's overall ability, if we assume that the zero assignment was not missed due to lack of understanding. However, we often hear that it's important for teachers to be able to grade the effort of students in the class, and when it comes to students who don't make an effort, I wholeheartedly agree with the zero approach.

Posted by kswygert at June 29, 2005 03:50 PM
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