by Kelly Waller
Should students receive half credit for an assignment they didn’t even bother to turn in? That is the new trend sweeping across the country in our public school system. District leaders are either strongly encouraging or making it mandatory for teachers to change their grading criteria so that 50% is the lowest score a student can earn, even when they fail to turn in the assignment.
According to Douglas B. Reeves, Chairman and Founder of the Center for Performance assessment in Boston, “it is mathematically disproportionate when a student receives a 0 on a 100-point scale when the interval between numerical and letter grades is 10 points. Therefore, when applying a 0 to a score, the interval between a D and an F is not 10 points, but 60 points.” (The Case Against the Zero).
So, taking this theory into consideration, should schools and teachers change their grading scale so that a 50% is the lowest possible score and, likewise, give a student credit for no work at all?
The logic sounds solid, but can (or should) teachers alter their ideals and make this adjustment? After all, our education system is not only responsible for instilling knowledge in their students, but also for life skills such as accountability. When our students grow up, will they still get paid for their job if they don’t show up to work?
There is also another factor that should be taken into consideration: the weighing of the assignments. Most teachers, me included, weigh an assessment at a higher percentage than a homework assignment. So, if a student doesn’t turn in their homework, a “0” will not drop them significantly. On the other hand, if a student decides they don’t want to complete their essay assessment, should they still receive 50%?
As a middle school teacher in the public school system, I feel an immense amount of pressure from my administration and district to make sure my students pass, especially since the dropout rate in the United States continues to rise. However, should one of those opportunities be to change a grade and give credit that wasn’t earned?
Like most teachers I’ve spoken to, I already give students every opportunity possible to help them pass my class (extra time, replacing lost materials, extra credit, in-school make-up work days, parental communication, incentives, etc.). Should changing their grade now be one of those opportunities?
If we continue to lower our expectations for our students, how will they be able to compete with graduates from higher performing schools that expect students to be successful by earning their grades?
Furthermore, how will they learn the importance of responsibility if they no longer need to be accountable for their own work?
Kelly Waller teaches middle school language arts in Hillsborough County, Florida Public Schools. She participated in the VIVA MET Idea Exchange.