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Hello, South Carolina



Morning, all. Not necessarily a 180 post, but I wanted to share an email that I received last night from a student at the University of South Carolina. I also included my response.


Hello, Mr. Syrie,
My name is Gabby and I’m a student at the University of South Carolina. I’m writing a Researched Argument Essay sourcing your blog post “Is Our Grading System Fair?” which was also published on Edutopia. One requirement is that I acquire some sort of primary research, and I’d like to interview you about your article, and your current feelings on the No Zero Policy.
If you could take a few minutes to answer some of my questions, I would appreciate it greatly!
– What are some affects on past students have you seen as a result of a harsher grading system that gives grades of zero?
– Do you see decreased levels of nervousness/anxiety since you implemented the No Zero Policy?
– Overall, do you believe that a standard grading system including grades of 0 can lead to certain problems that lead to the development of mental health issues for students?
I know those are pretty long and specific, but again I appreciate it very much.
Thanks! I enjoyed your article and hope to use this primary research in my paper.
Here is my response.
Hi, Gabby. I am honored that you have taken an interest in my article. I am happy that you have found some value in it. Thank you for the great questions. I will do my best to answer them. Of course, what I offer is only anecdotal, but as one who has spent 20+ years in the classroom, I believe my experience lends some credibility to my beliefs. With that in mind, I will offer what I have.
What are some affects on past students have you seen as a result of a harsher grading system that gives grades of zero?

In the past, before I abandoned zeros, I utilized a system where missing assignments and the resulting zeros adversely–sometimes devastatingly–affected a student’s chances for success in my classroom. Here are two examples. The situations are real. The names are fictional.

  • Rachel may have been the best writer I ever had in my class. And though she earned A’s on all her essays, she did not complete her notebook. The missing parts earned zeros, keeping her from an A in the class. Granted she did not fail, but the system failed her. She demonstrated to me, time after time, her proficiency as a writer, consistently exceeding grade-level standards, but her decision to not do something that she found to be of little help with her development was punished by the system. Thereby, grades were no longer about communicating achievement, they were punishment. She knew it. She was a smart kid. She, as one might expect, found little logic to the approach, and became increasingly frustrated and annoyed, adversely impacting her view of education’s purpose.
  • Tim got off to a slow start, handing in few assignments. Consequently, the zeros piled up in the grade book, and by midterm, he found himself in a sizable hole. Such a hole, that he did not perceive that he had any hope in passing the class, so he shut down. He did nothing the rest of the quarter.
Do you see decreased levels of nervousness/anxiety since you implemented the No Zero Policy?
Absolutely. First, students no longer stress as much over a missing assignment. Most of our kids have not only busy academic schedules but also busy extracurricular schedules, not to mention home/life schedules, too. As such, there are times when other aspects of their lives impact their ability to get all of our work done. With the added assurance, that it will not dip below the 50% mark, kids are less anxious when it happens. Second, with the “zero hole” in check, there is always hope for the Tim’s of the world. Tim, in the no-zero system, is ever only 10 percent away from passing. The light at the end of the tunnel is always in sight. Kids who see/find hope in an experience are less-likely to shut down. Hopeless situations are unhealthy for any of us, but they seem especially unhealthy for kids, which leads us to your next question.
Overall, do you believe that a standard grading system including grades of 0 can lead to certain problems that lead to the development of mental health issues for students?
I think that, in terms of mental health, hope and possibility are key ingredients to the teenage psyche. In the absence of hope and possibility, anxious/nervous kids become disengaged/resentful kids. And when kids reach this point, they are no longer in a state that allows for optimal learning–or maybe any learning by that point. Traditional grading practices, which often employ punitive measures such as the zero, create hopeless, impossible situations that frequently lead to harsh consequences for kids, adversely affecting students’ perceptions of self-efficacy. No-zeros is not a free ride. Kids are not “stealing” A’s. They still have to work to achieve. They still face a challenge–a fair challenge. And that is key, the challenge is fair and reasonable, not impossible. Self-efficacy happens when kids feel they can produce an effect. When that is compromised, as it too often is with traditional grading, it can be devastating to the mental health of our students, getting in the way of the real purpose of education: learning. 
I hope this helps, Gabby. Again, I am certainly no psychologist, but I have spent a lot of time with kids, and while my evidence may lack scientific authority, I believe it does carry some weight anecdotally. Please let me know if I can be of further help. Good luck with your paper. Take care.
Monte Syrie


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