I would like begin this discussion with a mathematical example. There is a student with eight grades: 80, 85, 95, 100, 90, 100, 90, and 88, who has an average of 91%, an A. If that student missed one assignment, say the 80, the grade would drop to an 81%, a B. If it were one of the 100 grades, the student would have a 78.5%, or a C. That would mean a student with seven grades, the lowest being a B, would have missed one assignment and have a C, a grade not earned on any of his assignments!
The old logic of education states that this student would never miss another assignment. This logic states, "We believe that students should learn to accept responsibility and should be held accountable for their work. Nevertheless, we know of no evidence that shows that assigning a zero helps teach students these lessons." [Guskey, Thomas R., and Bailey, Jane M. Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2001), 143- 144.]
A few years ago, Bishop Dunne instituted a 50% floor for missing or failed work to hold students accountable for not measuring up to the standard of passing (70%) but not mathematically punishing them with a zero (0%). The logic for doing so was to move toward a more equitable grading system in which there were two levels of failure (50 – 59 and 60 – 69) before the grades of C, B, and A could be earned. Some schools who understand the punitive nature of a zero, choose a 40% or a 60%, but they all recognize that a zero often creates a situation from which students cannot recover.
In my little over a year at Bishop Dunne, I have heard a series of criticisms of this system:
- I have heard a parent talk about "those kids" who benefit from missed work when I knew her daughter would have had a C in a class instead of B due to her missing a few assignments.
- I have heard of students who "never do anything" but pass all of their classes. A few teachers did a study a couple of years ago and found that students who were not learning or showing improvement failed in either system.
- We know the goal is always student learning, so we have talked about what we can do to make sure that students still turn in work if they do not do so on time. That might mean we will increase communication with parents and require more tutoring for understanding and work completion.
Either way, the 50% floor is to help a student's grade be an accurate reflection of student learning. Our entire focus of professional development this year is the improvement of student learning, so the role of the 50% floor is part of our discussion. Like all we do, we are studying it and checking some data to determine what effects it has on our community.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this or other academic issues.