Finals week is upon us once again and it’s make or break time for students with high hopes on their educational futures. A lot rides on their performance on exams, especially in places like China and America who have exams like the Gaokao and SAT respectively. But tests like these undermine the actual work being done day to day in the classroom. This could possibly lead to the conclusion that performance during these weeks isn’t really important. As long as you do well enough on the test that matters, what does the rest of the year mean? This can create a strange atmosphere in the classroom where students know their day to day performance is peanuts compared to the importance a few hours’ test can make. What can teachers and schools do about this? Some North American schools have implemented a no zero policy. A no zero policy is where the teachers are not allowed to assign a mark of zero to students.
There are significant problems with the policy of using zeros as discipline. T.R. Guskey (a professor at the University of Texas) states, “No studies support the use of zeros or low grades as effective punishment.” This is true for many reasons.
For one, life is filled with variables that can prevent students from completing their homework. Some students have less fortunate family lives than others. Many educators believe that, because there are approximately eight waking hours between the end of school one day and the beginning of school the next day, there is plenty of time to do the homework. That may not be the case in a school that encourages extracurricular activities or in families that may have outside commitments. It may also not be the case for students with dysfunctional or even dangerous home lives. If the reason the student does not have his work is outside of the student’s control, no form of punishment can change that.
Many educators do not support the use of zeros, which is partially because a zero is almost never an accurate reflection of what a student has learned. Theoretically, zeros can be used under the no-zero policy if it is an accurate reflection of what the student knows. But, it is highly unlikely that the student knows absolutely nothing.
The most common justification of the use of zeros is that they teach students about the “real world” and that life is harsh. Proponents of zeros say that assigning zeros for missing work teaches students to respect deadlines However, one might question whether giving zeros for missed assignments without allowing students to make up the work truly reflects the harsh reality of the real world.
Consider this scenario: Malcolm’s credit card payment is due on the fifth of the month. On the sixth, the credit card company tells Malcolm, “Well, you didn’t make your payment on time, so now you don’t have to pay, but this will go on your credit report.” That is not realistic. In real life, Malcolm would still be expected to pay his bill, and the credit card company would not report his late payment until several weeks or months had passed without payment. Educators who use the zero tell students that they are preparing them for the “real world,” when in fact there is no correlation.
So maybe schools need to devise a new system that encourages them to consider the importance of every moment spent in the classroom.
Students are ready to complete their Algebra final exam.
Students are confident knowing that they can perform without the possibility of a zero.