Why I Assign Zeros

Recently, Mrs. Val Brown tweeted about assigning zeros to students:

I assign zeros in my class. Below, I’ll give you the reasons why and limitations of this policy in my classroom. Before I do so, though, I think a little context is needed: I teach AP Psychology. Around 90% of my students go on to attend either 2 year or 4 year college/university. We use iNOW in my district, which allows my students (and parents) to have their grades available to them every second of every day…and they (students and parents) check iNOW constantly.

So, why do I assign zeros?

Mainly, as a placeholder. If a student doesn’t turn in an assignment, for any reason, they are immediately assigned a zero. This remains until they complete and turn in the assignment. This may be something they’ve done outside of class (this is a super rare occurrence) or a quiz/test in class. And my students have ample time to make up assignments. My school has 57 minutes for lunch every day. Students are free to come to my room and complete assignments Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (I have duty Tuesday and Thursday) during lunch block. I also get to school early. Students can come in about 45 minutes before school starts to turn in/complete assignments. I’ve found that putting this zero in immediately alerts students to missing assignments and places a bit of responsibility on these students (90%ish) who will be at a college/university in the next year or so. All they have to do is come in and make up/redo the assignment and the grade changes. No lost points. No time limits…well, they’ve got to get it done by the end of the semester…so I guess there is one time limit.

What if they never show up to make up/redo the assignment? Then, I believe, they’ve earned a zero. It remains a zero in the grade book. And a lot of my students are ok with that…and if they’re ok with it, so am I. I’m not going to care more than the students…again, let me remind you that I’m dealing with, for the most part, very driven high school students who will be attending college/university.

Are there limitations to this policy? Of course. There are always circumstances that may warrant an accommodation. While I do believe it’s very important to have somewhat strict classroom rules/procedures, I believe it’s also important to realize that life happens…sometimes outside my student’s control. This is, obviously, discussed on an individual basis and accommodations will be made.

Does this work for all teachers in all situations? Of course not. Is it perfect? Of course not and I realize some may criticize (which is okay) my policy. This has worked out well for my students to provide a bit of accountability and responsibility.

Lastly, in a somewhat interesting way, I believe it also acts to decrease stress/anxiety surrounding zeros and absences in my class. The policy, set on day one of the class, is very straightforward and students know what to expect. All they have to do is take the first step, tell me what they’re ready to make up, and I get it to them. They make it up. I grade it. The grade changes from a zero to the grade they’ve now earned. Simple.

Do you agree or disagree?

How does your policy surrounding zeros differ?

*If you’d like to add a rebuttal to this post, please go here.

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