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Parents, teachers, students dislike idea to eliminate zeros

No zeros? What an awful message

As a citizen of Hernando County, as well as a parent and career educator, I was appalled to find that our School Board received front page coverage for its consideration of a plan that would allow students who do not do an assignment to receive a grade of 40 instead of a zero or be assigned a minimal failing grade rather than the grade actually earned.

Welcome to the la-la land version of education. How proud we should all be that it is our county that is leading the way there for all of Tampa Bay to see!

Aside from the mastery of subject matter, parenting and education have a shared responsibility to teach our children life skills that will allow them to survive without us. Should this new proposal actually come to fruition, how do we teach children that all decisions have consequences? How does this prepare them for adulthood? Surely anyone grounded in reality can agree that when these students reach adulthood and make a $100 purchase, the credit card company will not charge them only $40 if the bill is not paid; no employer will pay an employee 40 percent of his salary rather than risk emotional damage if the employee does not report to work.

Perhaps the people seriously considering this policy should also think about other less-obvious damage that can result. With more than 30 years' experience in the high school and college classroom, I can attest to the more subtle messages that will be sent with this idea. Such a plan implies that any student who does work to his best ability and who strives to achieve is a fool. Why would anyone give 100 percent when he could earn 60 percent and then demand the automatic 40 points awarded for doing nothing?

Our schools should be encouraging diligence rather than punishing it. Instead, we would be telling all students that working for a desired goal is not all that important because there is a fail-safe provision.

Receiving a zero for an assignment, a failing grade for a marking period or semester, or even not earning a diploma may be the best lesson a student can learn. It teaches him that his decisions have a consequence and that only he can make the choices which lead to success or failure.

Sometimes students realize that a bad decision has its consequences sooner than actually failing for a term or a year. It would be a rare teacher that would not encourage a student to make more successful choices and work with him to achieve a better grade in the future. Most teachers would give extra instruction as needed and offer additional assignments to bolster a weak grade knowing that the acceptance of responsibility is a major improvement that deserves encouragement and teaches the student there can be no quick fix for choosing failure.

Whether you are an elected or contractual employee, your idea that this plan is the panacea for poor grades is seriously flawed and an insult to all industrious students and motivated teachers.

I won't be surprised to see coverage of Hernando County's educational system go beyond the Tampa Bay area. I can envision the School Board on America's Most Wanted because it will be guilty of aiding and abetting the dumbing down of America's educational standards.

Patricia Van Dyk, Hernando Beach

Policy would harm work ethic

As an educator, I find the no-zeros policy to be a very terrible idea. It sets the example that students do not have to work in order to succeed. From my experiences in the classroom, most children who do no work have no parent, or guardian, involvement in their education process. These parents feel that it is up to the school system to make their kids learn. As one parent of a failing student told me: "It ain't my job to teach them anything; all I've got to do is make them be here."

What is this going to do to the students that really put in an effort? Make them slack off, knowing that they will pass with minimal work? It is another example of being able to get something for nothing. Is this the way to teach the work ethic?

We have already dumbed the system down enough. It used to be that 70 was the lowest passing grade, and then they moved it to 60 to accommodate those who could not meet that minimal standard. Where does one draw the line when it comes to minimal expectations? Does just showing up for class entitle you to be promoted to the next grade? I think not.

The school administrators are looking at ways to make themselves and their schools appear to be doing their job by showing an improvement in the numbers. We used to call this massaging the numbers. It most certainly does not make the kids any smarter or work harder. I put this idea right next to the rule that said we should not use red pencils to mark student papers, because red marks were too threatening.

Richard DesChenes, Archer

Low grade can be terrific motivator

As an 18-year-old high school graduate, I know what it's like to work hard and receive the grade that I deserve. When I read this article, I couldn't believe that the Hernando School Board was actually thinking about lowering the standards so students could have a "fighting chance" if they get a zero on an assignment or don't even turn it in.

A fighting chance should be giving the students a proper education that demands concentration and hard work so they can survive out in the real world. It does not mean lower the standards and hand them a grade they didn't deserve.

One of my biggest motivations was receiving a low grade. It made me realize that I really had to pay attention and get my act together, or I wasn't going to pass my classes. Whenever I missed an assignment and received a zero, I did whatever I could to bring up my grade. With a lot of hard work I was successful every time.

If students are given a higher grade for not doing their work, they will learn that they don't need to put a lot of effort into what they want in life because it will just be handed to them. And people want to know why kids aren't doing as well in school as they used to.

Ashley Mowrer, Largo

Leave grading up to the teachers

Let the teachers teach using whatever rubrics work for their subjects and their students. If the students know the standards up front, they'll learn how hard to work and the consequences of their efforts.

Don't board members realize that there is far too much coddling of students going on already? Perhaps the reason some students turn in their work and do well on tests is to avoid the zero, so giving them 40 may lead to even more slackers just as food stamps, public housing, and free health care do for some in our society. I suspect some teachers give second chances with late penalties, which is far more realistic in the real world when one gets paid only for the hours worked or work produced. Students need to learn the consequences of their actions.

Marie Flatley, North Redington Beach

Students learn to scale back efforts

My husband and I are retired teachers out of Texas. The "no grade below 50" was pulled on us for about two years in the late 1980s. The result: Education got worse because the kids figured out the way around things within about six weeks, especially from seventh grade up.

I had good students decide they could not bother taking a test, get their 50, and still pull an 80 average for the semester, so that is what they did. Kids in my husband's math classes chose not to do homework, and parents thought that was okay, because they could still pass. The problem was they had no mastery of the subject and come time for final exams, that mastery was not there.

Yes, in the lower grades, kids need encouragement because the parents either tell them they can do no wrong, or just don't teach them anything and expect the schools to. One of the better things would be to set national levels of reasonable mastery and until a student reaches that mastery, they don't go on.

The Hernando School District is going to do more harm than good if it goes ahead with this plan.

Donna Nichols, Inverness

Parents, teachers, students dislike idea to eliminate zeros 07/05/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 5, 2009 5:30am]

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