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January 16, 2008

Students in Iowa will receive points even when they do not turn in homework

Check out this story about the way one Iowa school system is treating homework.

Under the new rule, an F would range from 50 to 60 instead of zero to 60 on a 100 point scale.

Apparently, students who had received a zero when they did not turn in homework had a hard time earning a final passing grade.

Right now, the new grading idea is only recommended for the high schools. But, teachers and administrators are being encouraged to use the new system by their superintendent.

What do you think? Is it fair to give a student an automatic 50 to 60 points even when he/she does not turn in an assignment? 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:50 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching, Trends


Zero Effort = 0

Can we please stop lowering the damn bar and actually make our students do some amount of work?

Fair? Sure, so long as we're re-writing th rules to make 50 points effectively a zero (which we're doing anyway). But overhauling an entire grading system like that seems at best silly. Changing the value of homework ("Homework will be 15% of your score instead of 25%") would seem more logical.

The purported goal is to keep kids from getting into a hole they can't climb out of, but a move like this -- or anything similar, really -- doesn't strike at the heart of the problem, which is kids failing to do their work in the first place.

Semi-relatedly: you might want to cut out the last paragraph of the article and send it to every principal and superintendent you know. THAT strikes at the core of the issue more than a revamp of a grading scale.

An assignment?! How about an entire grade? I'm told to give a 50 to students on my roll that I've never even seen before. (That way, if they happen to show up around 4th quarter, it won't be impossible for them to pass.) In Baltimore City, a 50 is what you give kids instead of a zero.

Agreed with Steph - it really burns me to give kids a 50 who don't show up, especially when some kids have to work for a 50, or a 55.

I was shocked by the story, which led me to blog about it.
I have also been shocked by some of the comments on this blog which has led me to believe that this same policy is being practiced in some Maryland schools.
If schools are supposed to prepare students for the "real world" how is this policy doing that?
I don't know of many "real" jobs that pay employees when they do not show up for work (excluding sick days and vacation, of course)...

You'd be surprised, John-John. Especially in larger companies where the lower-level is unionized, absence can be a big issue (and for some reason, terminiation doesn't seem to be a simple solution).

I find it so interesting that this issue is newsworthy when it occurs in an area that I would suspect is predominately white. Apparently no one cares that the racism of low expectations has been thriving in BCPSS for years. Between awarding grades of 50 to students who earned far less, and the changing of grades from failing to passing, our students are being set up for failure. How can we expect them to succeed when they enter college or the workforce when we have not prepared them for reality?!

THANK YOU AVALON!!! You expressed EXACTLY my sentiment on this issue. Citizens of Baltimore - WAKE UP! This grading practice has been going on at BCPSS for many years! The challenging students know about it and take advantage of the fact that they can act lazy and still pass. Unfortunately, the good/strong students see this and decide that they don't need to work as hard to pass, either.

When I worked at BCPSS, the lowest grade I was authorized to submit was a 60. Even if the student showed up a grand total of zero days. And then, at the end of the year (I taught 8th grade), the 8th grade team would sit together and look at all the students who were failing (based on grade) and decide which ones "deserved to move on" and which ones "should be held back." Being from California, I was shocked by this my first year, but by my second year I kept my mouth shut and let the discussion continue.

On top of that, the whole onus for a failing grade is placed on the teacher! For every failing student I had to demonstrate the efforts I made to engage them, inform them of their failing grade, get the parents involved, give them 15, 16, 83 chances to make it up, create a "make-up packet" with some handouts that if completed would allow them to pass, etc. To this day I feel guilty about the fact that NONE of my students failed my class my second year, 3rd and 4th quarter. Pretty great accomplishment, right? WRONG - it was just because I was sick of being blamed for failing I just didn't fail any of them. Wrong solution, but alas, I can't change my past actions.

I have always advocated that BCPSS change to a letter grade system. That way an "F" means an "F" and there is no problem with whether it was a 0 or a 50, which can affect the psyche of the hard-working students.

Yes-- that is the policy in Baltimore City. To give less than a 50, I must seek permission from the Principal. I have a first period student who is never in my class because they are always, everyday late. The student does not come to see me, avoids me like the plague, and has turned nothing in. No classwork, no homework, no makeups, no "Coach Class" -- NO EFFORT. Actually, the grade is 15%-- I formally asked two weeks ago in writing and was denied, in writing, of which I have saved the copy. It is not very fair to students who work hard and make 60%-- culture of low expectations. Let's not hurt the little darlings feelings...

Maybe when they can't get a job (or hold a job) in the future, we should excuse them from other things, like-- "no problem, the rent is on me this month..." or, "don't worry about health care, just go to the emergency room...they'll stick it to someone else..."

Voice For School Truth,

What exactly was written in the letter of response?

If people can get past their outrage at lack of effort by students and the thought of a bar being lowered, in a purely mathematical world, an F being 50 to 59 makes complete sense. All of the other grade ranges are only 10 points (for example, 90-100 for an A; 80-89 for a B; 70-79 for a C; 60 - 69 for a D), so the current practice of an F having a sixty point range is outdated and only exists because this is the way things have always been done.

Using zeros wrecks averages. Say a student gets two 100 and misses an assignment and is given a 0 on it. They end up with a 67% average. Another students turns in all 3 assignments, but gets 70's on all of them for an average of 70. The first student ends up with a D and the second student ends up with a C, even though the first student probably has better mastery of the material.

If a grade is truly about what kids know, it is never fair to average in zeros for missing work. This only measures effort (which could be a separate grade, perhaps), not content learning.


A grade is not, and should not be, only about what kids know. The only way a teacher can definitively know that a student possesses certain knowledge is if the student turns in assignments that demonstrate that knowledge in action. In that sense, effort is inherently part of every grade; if the student doesn't do the work, the teacher cannot determine how much a student has learned.

On the surface, it seems unfair that an F has a 60-point range, while the other grades have 10-point ranges. But these points aren't just arbitrary numbers; they are on a 0-100 scale because they are supposed to measure the fraction (percent) of knowledge that a student has acquired. I don't think it's unreasonable to set the expectation that students must know more than 3/5ths of the material in a course in order to pass that course.

Obviously, I'm putting the system in ideal terms, and "points" never quite work out this way. But as soon as you automatically give a student 50 points for everything, you're assuming a student knows half of the course material without actually having proof of it. That is unfair to every student.

Michelle, your very argument is why I have always advocated that BCPSS switch from assigning numerical grades to assigning letter grades. Letter grades don't differentiate between failing with a 0 and failing with a 50, which means a fail is a fail is a fail. But if you have a numerical system, then it is inherently wrong and inaccurate to prevent reporting of a numerical grade below a 50.

The reason for my argument is that the current grading system wreaks havoc on the hard-working student psyche. They see students who never come to class getting the same grades and passed along as they do. This leads to complacency and apathy.

Ultimately, grades are not an exact science and I would be the first to admit that my grading was never accurate enough to differentiate between a 73 and a 77. So, if I was able to just award a "C", that would be an appropriate and most accurate way of reporting.

Artie - I am definitely working from the premise that a grade for a content area should measure the knowledge of that content. If a student does not turn in any homework (or even classwork?), but aces traditional tests and/or authentic assessment or projects (we'll have to agree they are well-written assessments that measure the learning objectives taught), he/she has shown mastery of the material. I am all for giving a separate grade for effort, but giving zeros for missed work is just as much a guess that the student didn't know the material as they do know it and just didn't do the assignment.

If a student never turns in work, he/she would end up with 50's and fail, and in theory would not get passed along (even though this is not always what happens in BCPSS), so changing from 0 to 50 for missing work still seem to accomplish weeding out those who truly do absolutely nothing, versus those who miss some assignments and have their grades wrecked by averaging in zeros.

In addition to learning objectives, there are also life objectives.

Demonstration of course mastery is one thing (and an important thing, to be sure) but surely it's not unreasonable to also place importance on things like "We expect you to show up" and "We expect you to do homework". Lower schooling just about knowledge, but socialization, and meeting rational objectives one might face in the real world is not something to neglect.

Let college be about mastery of knowledge; this is about mastery of society.

If there is a student who is able to skip most or all of the assignments, but still ace exams, that's probably a sign that the student is in the wrong class, and needs to be moved to honors or otherwise challenged intellectually. It's a problem that can be fixed on the level of the individual student, and does not need a system-wide revamping of grades.

More often, in my experience (I used to teach in a school system that had a similar minimum-point policy), you'll get a group of students who do the bare minimum of assignments to keep their average in the D range (roughly one out of 4 or 5 assignments). Had these students simply bothered to do all of the assignments, they could have easily brought that into the A-B range, but they chose not to expend the extra effort because just passing was good enough. As a teacher, I want there to be a real difference between passing and failing, but a minimum grade prevents that.

One word: ridiculous!

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