By Ben Velderman
TUCSON, Ariz. – Amid growing public pressure, Tucson Unified school officials are scrapping a new “no-zero” grading scale at one of their high schools, less than a week after it was unveiled to teachers.
The Tucson Sentinel reports that last Friday, Pueblo Magnet High School Principal Vivi Watt sent an email to teachers about the new grading system and informed them, “We will not be using zeroes for any purpose.”
Under Watt’s new grading scale, students would have been given “a minimum of 50 points on every assignment, even in cases of cheating” and would have been allowed to re-do any assignments that scored a D or F, the Sentinel reports.
Watt’s email was accompanied by a Power Point presentation which stated that zeroes “work against everyone by diminishing hope.”
The “naïve” plan outraged Pueblo teachers, one of whom apparently tipped off the Sentinel.
“It makes it appear to the public that we at Pueblo have no standards as teachers, and we actually do,” an anonymous educator told the news site.
TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone has subsequently informed Watt that her no-zero policy was a no-go, even though it was created “with the best of intentions.”
School board member Mark Stegeman doesn’t seem to agree with the nobility of the no-zero plan.
“Setting low expectations for our students also disrespects them by saying, implicitly, that we think you are capable of no better,” Stegeman wrote in an email to community members.
(Former President George W. Bush once called such practices the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”)
Watt’s doesn’t deserve all the blame for the hare-brained scheme. She was only making use of “a new district-wide grading policy … that permits student participation to be considered when grading.”
Giving kids credit just for showing up to class seems like an obvious attempt by the school board to bolster student grades in a district that ranks well below national averages in student math and reading skills, according to 2007 data.
Grading gimmicks might inflate student scores, but they only give children a false sense of accomplishment, which will be shattered when they enter college or the workaday world. Tucson students will learn quickly that employers don’t offer many “do-overs.”
District officials should treat lousy grades among high school students as a red flag that Tucson’s children aren’t learning the basics in the lower grade levels, and are simply being shuffled through the system. Fixing those problems should be the board’s priority, not playing games with the grading policy.
Parents should be glad the no-zeroes nonsense has been snuffed out, but they should be very concerned that such a policy was deemed necessary.
Arizona offers a variety of school choice programs, and this incident should help motivate Tucson parents to examine their options.