Potsdam Central's ‘no zeros’ policy won’t aid education goals
Tuesday, June 22, 2010 - 2:37 pm

To The Editor:

While it was instructive to read the rationale behind the “zeroes are not permitted” grading policy offered by Ms. Carvill and the Potsdam School Board, her letter (“Use Of Zeros Is Counterproductive,” June 9-15) seemed to provide proof that the policy is less intended to prepare and educate students than to protect teachers and disinterested students from accountability.

Ms. Carvill is correct in stating the reasons why a student would receive a zero, but completely ignores the student, not to mention logic, in prescribing a remedy.

One would suspect that if a teacher grades an assignment, then it was required to be done in the first place.

It is also obvious that material needs to be re-taught if a student does not understand any of it.

Ms. Carvill suggests that a minimum grade of 50 is a fairer way to assess performance, but she ignores the fact that a grade is meant to be an accurate measure of performance, and that there is no incentive to give more than a token effort on a project if you receive half credit.

Awarding a grade of 50 also harms instruction because it confuses the issue of how a student earned the grade: whether because (s)he didn’t try or didn’t understand the question.

The citations from Lane & Lippert (2009), Wormelli (2006) and Madgic offer greater justification for eliminating the 100-point scale for grading and replacing it with a four-point scale commonly used in colleges or a 5.0 point scale used at some schools in Arkansas.

It is not a perfect solution, but by using a smaller scale, the penalty for a zero isn’t as severe.

The most egregious argument that Ms. Carvill cites is the contention that the current grading system works against those in poverty.

She cites two ends of the spectrum but ignores two other groups of students, those who face the obstacles of poverty (child care, lack of parental involvement) yet are able to overcome them by exerting the effort necessary, and those who have educated and involved parents but do not put forth the effort to perform in school.

The “zeros not permitted” policy punishes the former group and rewards the latter.

Teachers do have an obligation to prepare students of all backgrounds, but the policy put forth by Ms. Carvill eliminates the most important factor in preparing children for the real world: acountability.

David J. Shoen

Springdale, Ark.