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No-zero policy gets what it deserves — nothing

Zero might equal 40 percent in some grade books, but 60 percent is still a majority on the Hernando School Board.

This week, three of five board members smartly signaled their reluctance to authorize an administrative proposal to eliminate zero grades for elementary school students.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's dead,'' said board member Pat Fagan. "I don't believe in it.''

That would be dead as in zero chance of survival, not 40 percent.

Board members James C. Yant and Sandra Nicholson expressed similar sentiments to Times staff writer Tony Marrero.

Their angst is aimed at a proposal floated by the district's administrative staff to remove zeros from the grade books of elementary school teachers. Instead, children turning in substandard work would get a 49 and those who do no work at all would be given no grade lower than 40.

The stated reasoning is to provide motivation to children to keep trying because, under the policy, one or two missed assignments won't blow their overall grade. Enough failures and children eventually will become potential drop outs as they grow older.

You also can argue such a policy is just as likely to appease helicopter parents who contend junior's report card shouldn't be tarnished by one slip-up.

This a flawed plan that would reward students for doing nothing. It is an inappropriate lesson to pass on to impressionable youngsters who could graduate to manipulative behavior and the mistaken belief that actions do not have consequences.

Here's a thought: If an elementary school child is not turning in his homework, the problem likely is the home and not the work. Automatically putting a 40 in a grade book isn't going to resolve that issue, which is part of the larger and never-ending dilemma of trying to increase parent involvement in the public school system.

The proposal had been scheduled for a vote at a School Board meeting late this month. Now, it's off the agenda and likely a topic for a work session at which time no vote can be taken. In other words, the board must find another way to motivate unmotivated students.

It would be difficult for school board members not to come to that conclusion when the e-mails, telephone messages, anonymous Web postings and personal conversations communicate the message that you're a dunce if you seriously consider the idea. Response to the proposed no-zero policy has been overwhelmingly negative from teachers, parents and recent graduates both here and from beyond Hernando County, the first Tampa Bay area district to consider the plan.

There are better grading alternatives that should be left to the discretion of individual teachers, whether it is marking on a bell curve, dropping the lowest grade for each student or adding greater weight to achievements earned later in the quarter. Multiple missed assignments should prompt a note home or a telephone call to the parents, not 40 points as a token appreciation for coming to class.

A national board-certified middle school teacher from Port St. Lucie offered her own suggestion.

Students who do not turn in an assignment get a zero, a child turning in work of the poorest quality receives a 59 "which is still an F, but gives them a fighting chance to recover with a little more effort,'' Suzanne Diaz wrote in an e-mail to the Times. Students also can complete the missing assignment any time throughout the nine-week grading period to earn the same 59. Otherwise, it remains a zero.

"My only issues have been from parents who are not supportive in the sense they do not follow up to assure their child does homework and completes projects and reports. For those, the ball is in their court.

"They can dig in their heels and allow their child to keep the zero, or follow up and help their child become a responsible student. After all, that is the final product we are working toward, isn't it?''

Indeed.

No-zero policy gets what it deserves — nothing 07/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 10:46am]

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