Monday, October 1, 2012

CMS to mull 'no zero' plan

Should a student who does no work get 50 percent credit?  "No zero" policies have been stirring up buzz in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and across the country.

The goal of such policies is to remove barriers that can cause students to give up on a class  --  and eventually on their education.  On the traditional 100-point grading scale, anything below 60 percent is an F,  while the point ranges for passing grades are much narrower.  That means two or three zeros  (or very low grades)  can make it almost impossible to pull the average up to passing.

Some schools and teachers in CMS give no score lower than 50,  but it's not a districtwide practice,  says Superintendent Heath Morrison.   He said Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark had created teacher and principal work teams last year to talk about a  "no zero"  approach,  but he wants to wait and get more feedback from educators,  parents and students.

The objection,  of course,  comes from people who say giving half credit for no work coddles slackers and gives an unrealistic picture of the scene students will face when they graduate.  Under a  "no zero" plan,  a struggling student who worked hard to get half of the answers right would fare no better than one who didn't bother.

Ideally,  teachers using the revised grading scale encourage students to make up missed work.  If they've tried and failed,  the aim is to get them to loop back to the material and keep working until they master it.

But what about students who just won't work?

Morrison says schools need to work with their parents  --  "when schools and parents work together there's very few times when I've seen unsuccessful children" --  and look at what schools can do better to engage students.  For instance,  he said,  if students refuse to do homework,  is that because the assignments are tedious  "skill and drill"  exercises?

"I want us to own the things that we can own and change those things,"  Morrison said.  "After we've done our part, then we can say,  'OK, what else would you expect us to do?'  But I'm not sure we've done our part as well as we could yet."

Morrison isn't endorsing a  "no zero"  plan.  What he does want,  he said,  is a grading practice that's sensible and consistent from school to school.

An exchange on the Education Writers Association listserve last week showed many other districts are grappling with the same issue.  Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews says "no zero" plans are common in the Washington area.  The Montgomery County,  Md.,  district where Morrison got his start as an administrator switched about 10 years ago,  Mathews says.

"It was briefly controversial, but people came to realize that mathematically giving a zero for a failure to turn something in gave way too much weight to that one mistake, and setting a higher floor  --  I think they use 50 percent  --  did not represent an end to civilization as we know it,"  Mathews emailed.


Anonymous said...

I am a high school teacher in CMS, and I would hate to go to a policy that rewards students for doing nothing. I allow my students to turn in homework late for a 50%. That means it hurts their overall grade, but no so much that they cannot rebound from it. Thus the 50% for late homework acts as an incentive to actually do the work.

A larger project (that affects a student's grade more) that a student turns in late does not drop to 50% until after they are a week late (10% off for every day it is late). This is a common sense policy.

Teachers already have their gradebooks overseen by either the school administration (or CMS, I am not sure). For instance, in a regular class at my school, teachers have to count homework as 25% of the grade, quizzes and other assignments as 25% of the grade, and tests as 50% of the grade. Those percentages change as the level of class gets more challenging. For instance, it is 15% homework, 15% quizzes and other assignments, and 70% tests in AP classes. Thus, homework counts for no more than 25% of the grade in any class.

Rewarding a student any points for turning in nothing or failing to make up a test is counter to what we know about learning (think Skinner here). We reinforce the student to do nothing by rewarding him points. Rewarding points only after he turns in the work reinforces the behavior of doing the work (or making up the test).

This movement is simply an effort to artifically boost grades and improve the graduation rate while asking nothing of the student. I pray that the powers that be listen to teachers. I don't know too many teachers that endorse this policy change.

I believe that Dr. Morrison is correct when he says he wants a consistent policy. That makes sense. Giving (and that is exactly what it is - giving) a student a 50 for doing nothing does not.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:34-

I think you are lost. That was a reasoned post that contributes positively to the conversation. There is no place for it on the Observer message boards. If you are going to continue posting here, please engage only in logical fallacies.

Anonymous said...

The BOE gets 50% of their pay for doing nothing. Why not spread the love?

Anonymous said...

Wait 'till kids get to college and the professor doesn't give them 50% credit for turning work in late or not at all!

Anonymous said...

These CMS kids dont get to college thats the point. Hold their hand until we get rid of them then dump the problme in someone elses lap. Their parents should know they are not ready for college so hopefully they are not going to pay for a semester away from home. Kids only going to get in trouble or join a TFA program and become a teacher.

Retired2012 said...

What a great essay from Anon 8:34!

The sharks must not be in the tank yet?

Thank you for taking the time to write!

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that ANY school system tolerates having these kinds of "students" in class with others.

They should be "schooled" separately.

Especially if they're just goofing off.

"Disparate impact" be damned.

Wiley Coyote said...

The bar of what is acceptable in this country in all aspects of life has dropped so far, most people don't give it a second thought and step right over it every day...

The irony here is that while the Feds, the state and local school districts are hopping on the testing bandwangon; using tests to determine teacher effectiveness and compensation, we're going to just give kids a grade they didn't earn? Then hold teachers accountable because Little Johnny doesn't know what two plus two is?

I think I'll tell my boss I'm only going to work at 50% of my capability today because it's dreary outside.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points 8:34.

This all reminds me of my experiences in an "urban" school decades ago.

The black kids were so far behind that they simply could not do high school level work.

Many of them were illiterate or read at a 1st or 2nd degree level.

My History teacher's solution to this was to dumb down tests so much that even someone who couldn't read could pass them.

All they had to do was listen in class.

She actually had other students (such as myself, as punishment for finishing the test in less than 5 minutes) read tests to the illiterates and MARK THEIR ANSWERS for them.

I remember one particularly pathetic 20 question T/F test in which the teacher TOLD us there were 10 True and 10 False questions.

Any fool could simply mark ALL T or ALL F and get a 50% on the test.

One of the "students" I read the test to actually got a 40% on that test.

I told him he could get a guaranteed 50% if he just wrote T or F on all the answers.

And he didn't understand what I meant...

So he got his well-deserved 40%.

And somehow managed to stay on the basketball team...

Anonymous said...

Maybe we can just give them all C's. Good grades, bad grades, give them all C's so nobody will feel bad about their failures.

Maybe we can make all school sports have tie games too.

Ann Doss Helms said...

8:34, you sound like exactly the kind of teacher they'll want to hear from.

Anonymous said...

I'm about to lose my cheerios. This is ludicrous on all levels. I hope the teachers stay strong and fight this one.

Anonymous said...

CMS to mirror UNC? Just give the blacks a B for registering? If they actually show up to school at some point, B+. If they have meal in the cafeteria, A-. Actually attend one hour of one class per semester, A+ for all classes.

Bill Stevens said...

Thansk 8:34. Roght on!

So now Mecklenburg public, you see the joke of a superintendent the BOE hired. If he can not step up and say education is important and the number one priority of the school system, then he is lack of values and is bound to simply run CMS on a popularity platform.

Anonymous said...

Why not go back to the 10 point scale instead of the 7 point scale? The 7 point scale starts in grade 3. I think society today has forgotten about the average student. Face it, all kids are not going to be rocket scientists. But oh wait, science is not important any more. All my children do all day in elementary school and at home is read, read, read!

Anonymous said...

10:58, I never could figure out why reading and writing and doing math stuff about science did not fit into the curriculum.

Sometimes I wonder how educated our educators are.

Anonymous said...

When I was in school we got 100% credit for turning in our homework and would get it reviewed for corrections/right answers so that we knew what we did wrong. Now they grade your homework. Which penalizes kids that complete the assignment, but gets a bad grade, just as much as kids that don't.

It's homework, and it should be practice assignments that prepare you for the test.

There is too much weight put on homework.

Bill Stevens said...

There are so many strategies a teacher could use to keep from penalizing the students too bad. I fear though that central office staffers have the classrooms so orchestrated that the teachers have little flexibility. For example, a teacher could give an in class "practice" test, have students swap tests to grade, then the student gets the returned test and with it and what they learned grading the other test, they could do some "similar" homework problems and get very decent grades.

Though my assumption here is that the students actually want to come to school to get educated.

Anonymous said...

Can we please keep our focus on the kids that want to learn instead of GIVING a 50% to those that don't care? This No Zero Policy an awful idea.

Anonymous said...


Think Skinner. Or, perhaps Freud?

If my husband forgets my birthday but buys me an expensive piece of jewelry and takes me out to dinner the next day (with a sincere late excuse apology), I suppose there might be a 50% chance of him getting lucky. I can assure you there would be a 0% chance of him getting lucky if he did nothing. Of course, the goal is to motivate him to strive for a 100% every year.

Wiley Coyote said...

....but we didn't hear how many zeros the hubby received.

Anonymous said...


Got distracted from my Educ. Psych. homework due tonight.

Onto Piaget, Vygotsky and adolescent male brian development!


Anonymous said...

You'd think my Educ. Psych. professor would give me extra AP points for making some relevant connection here...


Anonymous said...

Wiley Dear,

Too many zero's would likely land most husbands in divorce court where they'd likely have to fork over 50% of their assets.

Anonymous said...

OK, It's seriously time for me to sign off...

Anonymous said...

Yep, give them a zero, kick em out, or let them flunk out and go on the public dole. Or prison. That will teach them. But, if we do that, we must promise not to complain about welfare or the price of keeping them up in prison. Let's not try every little trick (like giving them a 50) to let them maybe have some success and maybe go on and do something or be something. Not that it will work anyway, but let's not even try. Let's dash any hope of making the kids productive members of society as quickly as we can. The earlier the better.

Anonymous said...

Most of these kids parents have seen to it that they are unlikely to be productive citizens.

The question is how long do the other children have to be neglected while teachers focus on the losers.

Put the losers in a different class.

Anonymous said...


Yes, but in the real world people loose their jobs and fail if they do nothing.

Does the concept "learned helplessness" mean anything? Does the idea of working towards sometime in order to achieve something resonate? Is it possible that handing out a "get out of jail" free card to every student every time they don't do something might actually encourage low academic expectations that can lead many students to believe school is a dead end?

Anonymous said...

2:24, that is the thinking that has got us here already. Like my instructor says, "keep doing what you have been doing and you will keep getting the reuslts you have been getting".

Bottom line is the public dole has got to change. You will get no cooperation from the family unit till you start hitting their monthly chec.

Anonymous said...

I'm a firm believer in second and third chances in life. However, in civil society there is something called consequences for repeatedly failing to do what one is supposed to do. I fail to see any academic or practical life lessons in a 'no zero' policy.

Anonymous said...

This is 8:34. Unfortunately, I feel like teachers do not have a voice in CMS. So much gets handed down to us from central and school administration (at my school, my principal is great and he tries to let us use our professional judgment in our classrooms, but there is still a lot of central admin. BS we need to implement or deal with). I fear that this policy will be implemented regardless of what teachers think. It is this mindset that Dr. Morrison is going to need to work hard to dispel.

Christine Mast said...

Let's remind ourselves of the Supt.'s vision: "Every child. Every day. For a better tomorrow."

Now let's look at the various "tomorrows" we hope a child could have after CMS:

1) College
2) Job
3) ??

1) In college, what kind of a grade do you think a student will receive, who does not do any of the homework? A ZERO.

2) At work, what kind of a reception do you think a worker will get from his boss, when the worker decides not to show up for work one day? 50% of a paycheck?! No, the worker will get a pink slip.

3) Live off of a government program, which costs ALL of us more money.

Someone please tell me how we are "helping" our kids by giving them 50% for doing nothing.

I support teachers that allow the students a second chance (with an appropriately lower grade for being late). I also agree with Anon @ 8:34 am that "this movement is simply an effort to artificially boost grades and improve the graduation rate while asking nothing of the student."

We're not doing anyone any favors by continuing to award students points for doing nothing. They won't be ready to enter the work force. They won't be ready to enter college. If they do try for higher education, they'll need remedial classes before they can even begin higher education. All CMS is doing is passing the buck to the companies and colleges.

We need to be responsible stewards of the kids while they're in CMS, and prepare them for the real world.

OTE admin said...

A "no zero" policy simply usurps a teacher's professional decision-making ability in order to appease parents.

Principals routinely force teachers to change grades. If they resist, principals can railroad them out of careers. It happens all the time in districts around the country.

Andrew Thiel said...

I'm a licensed general contractor. When I sign a contract to renovate a home for someone and then don't do any work, I still charge the home owner 50% of the cost of the job. Wait. No I don't. That's not how life works. And we wouldn't want to educate our failing children on what life is really like, now would we???

Anonymous said...

I once had a low-income black female high school student who rarely showed up for an intro fine arts class she was registered for and needed as an elective course in order to fulfill graduation requirements. She never completed any of her assignments either. I gave this student plenty of opportunities to complete make-up work but she wasn't receptive to my offers and never bothered to try. It wasn't like the class was that difficult to pass. "E" for Effort got you some credit. I gave her an "F" (for Failing) my course.

However, because this student was a successful athlete (track and field), I was told my grade might hinder her chances at an athletic scholarship which could positively impact her future. I was a member of my high school varsity track and soccer teams so I've always supported school sports. The administration at my school, with the blessings of this girl's coach, changed my grade without my permission. I left this school after receiving a district-wide teaching award. The educational environment I worked in wasn't the kind of educational environment I wanted to be a part of. I often wonder if this girl ever made it to college let alone graduated with a degree. I wonder how much money she's making as a 40-something-year old sprinter.

Former teacher
Prince George's County, MD

Anonymous said...

How about requiring "no zero" parents?

Seems that's a big part of the problem.

All the zeros out there having kids.

Anonymous said...

This practice has been widespread and going on for decades in all sorts of school systems in the Carolinas. If you didn't know that it must not have much of an effect on student abilities to hold jobs. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:58

Schools do these "athletes" a great disservice by making anyone think they have a chance at a "scholarship" when they are probably illiterate or just plain lazy.

It's like those basketball players in my History class who couldn't read their own tests.

They've probably had wonderful careers playing pickup b-ball in prison.

Anonymous said...

The "50" students will probably not pass the EOC / EOG tests that teachers will have their pay based on. I feel sure that NO TEACHERS will want to pass a student that lowers their pay with no effort to turn in the work.

Would you?

Anonymous said...


Then there was the white teenage girl with a mother who told her she could go to college as a graduation gift OR get a brand new car! (At least this kid passed my class).

I wonder how that 1989 red Mustang is holding up? The gay kid who was relentlessly bullied by the wrestling team is probably the only one who is currently supporting himself. The wrestling coach and his team called be a "b-tch" for standing up for this kid - before ripping down pictures I had on display on my classroom wall. Boy, do I miss this school!

I can't make this stuff up. I swear to God, I can't.


Anonymous said...

I love teaching. I'm currently going back to school to teach 4th grade. However, after my experience in MD, I won't teach at just any school. The "b-tch" ain't making a comeback anywhere in Prince George's County. I keep my shiny teaching award plaque (with my name misspelled) on the wall as a reminder of my wonderful time here.

If I had to make a bet, I wouldn't bet on the Prince George's County MD Public School System winning a Broad award anytime soon. I'd work for any CMS school before I'd work here.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Morrison, ask yourself one single question! Does a non "0" policy contribute to academic rigor? If the answer is no then you have answered your own question.

Anonymous said...

How about giving me $5,000 for my PfP just for my effort. I will be happy then to give a score of 50 for no effort.


Anonymous said...

Please discuss how the 50 is put into the new common core curriculum that increases rigor by the state DPI.

Do you think CMS should look into if this is even legal.

Ready Fire Aim

Anonymous said...

Hey Heath

Why dont you just go ahead and remove the common sense barrier for students. You have done it for 90% of your zone supers and principals already.

Anonymous said...

Dear "spoonhead" morrison,
If I got a market level raise that reflects 50% of what my multiple degrees could make in the private sector, it may give me an incentive of "hope" to enter a grade of 50 for some children who go to your district to deal drugs and recruit for gang activity. When I met you and listened to what you said I figured that you are just new to the job. Now I am thinking you are just a politico using any means possible to boost the graduation rate (over the backs of your teachers)so you can move onto the next rung of the ladder.

Anonymous said...

@9:05 a.m.

This already happens. I had a student get mad because he never cam to class except for tests. Did poorly on them too and didn't turn in one assignment until 2 days before the end of the semester. I gave him what he earned (under 50%) and he was mad because I didn't grade all those late assignments. He even had his mother call and threaten to sue.

Anonymous said...

If you give a 50 for doing nothing, what do you give the kid who actually got a 50? A 60? 70? You'd have to artificially curve all grades until none mean what they should. As a teacher, this reminds me of our judicial system in which life means 20 years, 20 years mean 10, and so on. Scary!

Anonymous said...

What is the promotion retention policy in elementary school in CMS? Some other urban districts won't allow retention unless the student misses too many days of school. If the kid shows up, does nothing, he or she will be promoted until reaching high school. Yeah, proficiency rates aren't very good and the graduation rates stink but hey, the kids feel good about themselves through elementary and middle school.

Anonymous said...

50%? Try 69% as it is the highest F numerically. I wish I worked for an admin that allowed 50%s. We continue to elevate the masses by dragging down those who authentically succeed.

Anonymous said...

As an educator, I am appalled by this. But not surprised. What most people don't realize is that, especially in CMS, there are few teachers who will fail a kid who is trying. And these kids who are supposedly in deep holes they can't get out of because they do no work? Vast majority don't even know what their grade in the class is or how it's calculated. What this is is a way to put a greater emphasis on standardized tests. If a student choses to NOT work all semester, but can be trained to past the ever important EOC or MSL, they can salvage their grade and pass. But remember, we are no longer in the business of teaching responsibility. Our job is solely to teach content. (I was seriously told this by an educational administrator in CMS ) .

Anonymous said...

Honestly, if we want to mirror the college grading system (which is much more fair) we should grade on a 4.0 scale. The point spread from a D to an A is 23 points. The spread from a 0 F to a D is 70 points. Hmmmm. Fair? Not!

Anonymous said...

Ready Aim Fire

Just more of the entitlement society that will lead the US to the status of Greece. Trillions spent on education to see us fall to 26th in the world.

Who thinks this policy will make us more competitive against the emerging powers? The young student will never find self-respect in the arms of a "50". Teach them a trade or skill that will make them productive within society. Otherwise spend $30,000 per pupil for jail terms. Going door to door is like cutting $100 dollars in spending from a trillion defecit. Make some hard decisions and some real policy choices Heath. Earn the respect from the teachers, parents and students.

Anonymous said...

We need an authority to comment on this, someone on the Board.

Bolyn, what is your opi...what, Bolyn is not on the Board?

Does he know that?

Anonymous said...


Going door to door with a sales pitch to give them a 50 if they come back to CMS. Please go back to NV to sell your Amway products.

Over a quarter of a million to photo op with a $34,000 social worker.Your maket adjustment should be based on how many you ACTUALLY got to come back. LaTarza do you have the stats?

Come on Bueler!

OTE admin said...

Nevada doesn't want Heath back. Take a look at one of the "quality" principals he hired back in 2011:

He's being investigated by WCSD. The guy clearly lied on his application. He will most likely be fired, to my knowledge the first principal at WCSD to be fired in its recent history.

Anonymous said...

Can we make this retroactive to when I was in school? I would probably qualify for Harvard. I hated homework.

Anonymous said...


They are lying. CMS has a no zero plan already. It is buried in CMS policy. It was passed out last year because they wanted to amend the plan, but in essence no teacher can give lower than 50 on anything. It has been in place for years.... Trust me on this one. Our SLT discussed it and had to make adjustments because we thought it was just a joke and not a real policy.

Anonymous said...

So many closet racists on here when its not only blacks that do bad its all races that do bad

Unknown said...

This is a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! I hope to read more of your post which is very informative and useful to all the readers. I salute writers like you for doing a great job!
home plans

Anonymous said...

As a nine year veteran of CMS, I had never been told no zeros until this year and if a student did not hand in anything I was told a zero was appropriate. I am not going to prison like the folks in Georgia, unless I see this in writing. It is grade inflation and already many of our students are not ready for college and/or careers. Oh, we don't have classes for normal kids, only college bound, and then we fake their work....oh my, it does sound criminal to me.