How is a 59% F different from a 0% F?

The following guest blog post is from David Cook, who teaches 7th Grade Language Arts in Indiana.

In "No-Zero Policy: Students Don’t See Zeroes The Same Way Adults Do," Stocker makes a statement that I have heard from multiple teachers throughout my career (as a student and as a teacher). She states that when it comes to zeroes, "Oftentimes, teachers say they are teaching students that they can’t be late on assignments, that in the real world, if you’re late with work you get fired."

I have also heard fellow teachers say, "What are we supposed to do if they didn't even try? You can't give them points for something they didn't do!" Let me tell you what I did.

I've done away with zeroes.

                I no longer use them.

I refuse to give students anything less than a 59%.

There are several reasons why I no longer use zeroes. One reason is that I found myself taking some pleasure in assigning a zero to a student that hadn't done his/her work.

After reflection, I realized that I was not assessing students' work, but their behavior in getting the work done. My score did not reflect the assignment, and it also gave me an excuse to not have to follow up with the student to get the work completed.

I'll admit that I fell into this trap and didn't push my students to complete the assignment. Stocker reinforces this by saying, "We’re also undermining kids’ ‘stick-to-it-ness’ when we allow them to get zeroes. By allowing zeroes, we’re giving them the message that they don’t have to be persistent in their learning."

My next reason reflects reason number three in Stocker's article that zeroes can "make a student’s grade tank quickly." In my first year of teaching, an administrator came in to discuss the damaging effects of a zero.

If you look at a meter stick with 100 centimeters, you can see our outdated grading scale. From 100-59 represents our system of A-F. That means that 59-0 is ALL F.

The question was asked of us, "How is a 59% F different from a 0%F?"

Because if you look at it, all 59 points are an F. The letter grade doesn't change within the F scale. When we assign a 0, we are giving more like a Z aren't we? Pair that with the fact that it's nearly impossible to recover from a large scale 0, and that a 0 is not the motivator teachers think it is.

Stocker, Heather M. "No-Zero Policy: Students Don't See Zeroes The Same Way Adults Do." TeachThought. N.p., 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 June 2015.


  1. From Penny Gay:

    Hi Mindy,
    I have allowed students to receive ZEROS for doing nothing. After reading your blog, I am motivated and am going to try to implement a policy that students need to complete all work, thus no zeroes. I think that this will mean expanded due dates. Or, would it be not having due dates? What have you done in the classroom?

    (Sorry, Penny, I accidentally clicked delete on the comment! I will forward this to David!)

  2. This is an interesting take. I am going to definitely take this into account as I progress in my career.