# The Nuances of No-Zero Grading Policies

Zeros are incredibly controversial. Many school districts across the country have altered the process of assigning students a zero grade while others have abandoned more pervasive grading practices entirely in favor of what are known as “standards-based” assessment measures. As the battle between holding on to more traditional methods or implementing newer approaches rages among educators and laypeople, many of us start defending polarized points of view. In reality, whether or not to abandon zeros is a highly nuanced issue, one that deserves more than the oversimplification it usually receives. To avoid a knee-jerk response to this topic, it is important to first learn more about why zeros can be problematic, how the ideology of standards-based practice connects to this hot-button issue, and what can be done to achieve a balanced approach that serves students and ensures their continued academic growth.

## Why No Zeros?

Why did zeros become so unpopular?

Mathematically speaking, the issue isn’t just the zero itself, but also the numerical chasm that occurs between zero to 50. If we look at a typical 100-point scale, most grades exist within a range of 10 points (or percentage points). For example, an “A” grade usually represents anything between a 90-100. However, in a traditional scale, the space for failure represents about 60 points, namely anything between zero to 59. When failing grades under that construct are weighed, the potential of one poor grade to irrevocably change a student’s grade for the worse is significant. Sometimes, it becomes mathematically impossible for kids to recover from just one bad showing, even if they turn their performance around on subsequent assignments. The numbers are simply too overwhelming. Once students see that there is no way to be successful, they often grow discouraged and simply give up, and not necessarily in one class. The morale dip can affect performance across subject areas and become an enduring problem.

Those who push back on bottoming grades out at 50 percent argue that students can game the system – essentially, that kids who want to take advantage of unearned points can do little to no work and still earn partial credit. Provided that is an accurate description of a grading policy, it behooves us all to wonder what good 50 percent does for a student. How frequently do students who abuse a policy like this achieve genuine success? True, their failure may be a little less dramatic, or they may eke out a perceived win when they pass a course with a “D” grade. But is that really a victory? Ultimately, how much good does a just-over-the-line score do for anyone’s academic career? That is a question worth exploring.