The Case for The Case Against Zeros

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Ten years ago, Douglas Reeves made a compelling case against zeros. Since then, many districts and schools have crafted No Zero policies (some admittedly miss the intended target), but these tend to be the exception. We cannot continue to use grades as punishments, to send “messages,” and to “teach students a lesson.”

Six Reasons for the Case Against Zeros
  1. If it’s worth assigning, it’s worth requiring students to do it.
  2. Work completion is often influenced by home life, learned behaviors, economic standing, etc. It’s not fair to punish students for factors beyond their control.
  3. Punishing students for failing to complete an assignment doesn’t motivate them. In my experience, low grades are more likely to discourage students from making greater efforts.
  4. Often a handful of zeros doom the student for the entire term, causing students to simply quit.
  5. The students we most worry about losing (those who are often deemed lazy or are below grade-level are labeled at-risk) are most harmed by zeros.
  6. Zeros distort final grades, which should be an indicator of mastery.

Critics of No Zero policies will claim that the penalty–a zero–is appropriate to instill proper values within students. This may be true for the highly motivated, mature student, but it’s more likely that these students already possess the intrinsic motivation to be successful in school.

It’s time for all educators to adopt a No Zero policy.


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Reed Gillespie

Reed is a longtime educator and coach, who is passionate about progressive learning and 21st-century assessment practices. Read more of his work here. "I'm a co-moderator of #VAchat, a Twitter conversation for Virginia (and non-Virginian) educators that meets Monday's at 8 ET. Most importantly, I'm a father of four wonderful children and a couple grandchildren. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, sports and, of course, spending time with family."

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