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Ask Marilyn: Zero Grades Are Demotivating
Len Smith of Camano Island, Washington, writes:
Marilyn: When you wrote about assigning a grade of 50 for an F instead of a zero, you missed the educational theory aspect of the question. (February 3, 2013) I am an administrator who advocates for not using zeros on a 100 point scale: When a teacher gives a zero on an assessment, he or she gives the student an irrecoverable grade. Assume that student works hard and receives straight A's on his next five tests; the best average he can hope for is a B. Take the same student and instead of giving him a zero on that first assessment, we give him a 50 (a failing grade, but one that's recoverable). Again, he makes a great effort and earns five A grades. This would make his final average an A, a more accurate indicator of his mastery of the material. On a 100 point scale, a zero is so damaging that it can destroy a student's motivation as he wonders, "What's the difference? If I try super hard on my next test and work so hard I get a 100, I still have a failing grade in the class!"
I advocate doing away with the 100 point scale altogether. Instead, let's consider grading things the way most businesses assess their employees: excellent, good, fair, poor, unacceptable. Or maybe in terms of how well a student has mastered a subject matter—fully mastered, approaching mastery, lacking any mastery, failing. You can't measure a student's mastery with a number the way you would measure the temperature of an oven, or the quantity of fuel in a car.
Wow. You advocate shifting from an objective standard to a subjective one! I'm happy to see that in the arts, where it reigns supreme, but in education?