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Aug 14, 2008


bill cox

I guess if the DISD staff truly believes that they have such a low quality of student to work with that allows them to see merit in making these changes, well then, what's there to say. They have analyzed the state of education in the DISD, the reality of what they have to work with, and implemented changes design to...well, actually, I don't know what their intent is.

With this type of mentality in the public school system, I can understand the desire to modify the top 10% automatic admission policy at the state college level.

Lawrence Kohn

Actually, Dallas ISD is doing the right thing. First, please read the following short article from Doug Reeves,a leading expert on assessment"
"THIS IS not a trick question. If you are using a grading scale in which the numbers 4, 3,
2, 1, and 0 correspond to grades of A, B, C, D, and F, then what number is awarded to a
student who fails to turn in an assignment? If you responded with a unanimous chorus of
"zero," then you may have a great deal of company. There might be a few people who are
familiar with the research that asserts that grading as punishment is an ineffective
strategy,1 but many of us curmudgeons want to give the miscreants who failed to
complete our assignments the punishment that they richly deserve. No work, no credit --
end of story.
Groups as diverse as the New York State United Teachers and the Thomas Fordham
Foundation rally around this position. Let us, for the sake of argument, accept the point.
With the grading system described above, the failure to turn in work would receive a
zero. The four-point scale is a rational system, as the increment between each letter grade
is proportionate to the increment between each numerical grade -- one point.
But the common use of the zero today is based not on a four-point scale but on a 100-
point scale. This defies logic and mathematical accuracy. On a 100-point scale, the
interval between numerical and letter grades is typically 10 points, with the break points
at 90, 80, 70, and so on. But when the grade of zero is applied to a 100-point scale, the
interval between the D and F is not 10 points but 60 points. Most state standards in
mathematics require that fifth-grade students understand the principles of ratios -- for
example, A is to B as 4 is to 3; D is to F as 1 is to zero. Yet the persistence of the zero on
a 100-point scale indicates that many people with advanced degrees, including those with
more background in mathematics than the typical teacher, have not applied the ratio
standard to their own professional practices. To insist on the use of a zero on a 100-point
scale is to assert that work that is not turned in deserves a penalty that is many times more
severe than that assessed for work that is done wretchedly and is worth a D. Readers were
asked earlier how many points would be awarded to a student who failed to turn in work
on a grading scale of 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, but I'll bet not a single person arrived at the answer
"minus 6." Yet that is precisely the logic that is employed when the zero is awarded on a
100- point scale.

There are two issues at hand. The first, and most important, is to determine the
appropriate consequence for students who fail to complete an assignment. The most
common answer is to punish these students. Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding,
there is an almost fanatical belief that punishment through grades will motivate students.
In contrast, there are at least a few educators experimenting with the notion that the appropriate consequence for failing to complete an assignment is to require the student to
complete the assignment. That is, students lose privileges -- free time and unstructured
class or study-hall time -- and are required to complete the assignment. The price of
freedom is proficiency, and students are motivated not by threats of failure but by the
opportunity to earn greater freedom and discretion by completing work accurately and on
time. I know my colleagues well enough to understand that this argument will not
persuade many of them. Rewards and punishments are part of the psyche of schools,
particularly at the secondary level.
But if I concede this first point, the second issue is much more straightforward. Even if
we want to punish the little miscreants who fail to complete our assignments -- and I
admit that on more than one occasion with both my students and my own children, my
emotions have run in that direction -- then what is the fair, appropriate, and
mathematically accurate punishment? However vengeful I may feel on my worst days,
I'm fairly certain that the appropriate punishment is not the electric chair. Even if I were
to engage in a typically fact-free debate in which my personal preference for punishment
were elevated above efficacy, I would nevertheless be forced to admit that giving a zero
on a 100-point scale for missing work is a mathematical inaccuracy.
If I were using a four-point grading system, I could give a zero. If I am using a 100-point
system, however, then the lowest possible grade is the numerical value of a D, minus the
same interval that separates every other grade. In the example in which the interval
between grades is 10 points and the value of D is 60, then the mathematically accurate
value of an F is 50 points. This is not -- contrary to popular mythology -- "giving"
students 50 points; rather, it is awarding a punishment that fits the crime. The students
failed to turn in an assignment, so they receive a failing grade. They are not sent to a
Siberian labor camp.
There is, of course, an important difference. Sentences at Siberian labor camps ultimately
come to an end, while grades of zero on a 100- point scale last forever. Just two or three
zeros are sufficient to cause failure for an entire semester, and just a few course failures
can lead a student to drop out of high school, incurring a lifetime of personal and social
This issue is as emotional as anything I have encountered since the phonics versus whole
language debate. Scholars regress to the persuasive tactics of professional wrestlers (no
offense intended to wrestlers -- this article will generate enough hate mail as it is), and
research and logic are subordinated to vengeance masquerading as high standards.
Because the emotional attachment to the zero is so strong, I have given up advocating
that 50 points should represent the lowest grade. What I do think we can do to preserve
some level of sanity in our grading system is to return to a four-point system. A's no
longer equal 100 points, but four points. If there is a need for greater specificity, then we
can choose an infinite number of digits to the right of the decimal point and thus
differentiate between the 3.449 and 3.448 to our heart's content. But at the end of the day
in such a system, the F is a zero -- one point below the D. It is fair, accurate, and, some people may believe, motivational. But at least the zero on a four-point scale is not the
mathematical travesty that it is when applied to a 100-point system" (End of article)

If we want a CLEAR picture of what our students know and are able to do and how to help them get better, we have to hold them accountable for the learning--giving a zero allows them a cop out, and then a teacher does not have the correct data from which to truly assess the student.

As for retesting, people believe there are no do-overs in life? We do-over all the time, drivers tests, SAT tests, courses we fail in college...the point of reassessment is to allow students to improve on what they did not know the first time and to actually master the material before the next learning expected occurs ans so on, resulting in a curriculum a mile wide and learning an inch deep.

Right now, we have about 65% of students graduating from high school on a national level, and 40% of those who graduate need remedial classes when they attend college. Why? Partly because we destroy student self-efficacy with grades on one hand and on the other, give them false visions of themselves as A and B students when much of their grades are completion grades and other fluff grades like getting a 100 for bringing a box of tissue or for having a letter signed on time. I am pretty sure the state of Texas does not have a learning standard that reads "Brings supplies and letters on time" but our teacher gradebooks are filled with such grades, extra credit, etc...
I applaud Dallas ISD for making such a bold move in the right direction.


The problem isn't about numbers, it's about responsibility. If students know that they can turn in homework any time they wish, and they can always just retake a test they failed with no consequence, and teachers have to call their parents before giving them a 0 (which is a major pain and oftentimes the parents just say, "so what," anyway) - why would they ever read a book, complete an assignment, or study for a test? If accountability is already a problem - and all the numbers suggest it is - how is this policy going to make students more accountable? It only puts the onus on the teacher to adjust to what the student does or does not do. Haven't we already put enough of a burden on our teachers?

Here's another problem. Let's say you teach an English class and you have the students read "1984" on their own. You discuss it in class with activities, but the reading of it takes place at home. Let's say you assign 10 study questions to help them think about chapters 1-2. Half the students do the assignment, the other half don't. You have to give the graded questions back to the students - or at least go over them in class - so then the ones who didn't do it just copy down the answers and then they turn it in. By this policy you have to give them the same grade that the ones who did it on time receive. The teacher could give them another set of questions to do in place of the first set, but then you are forcing the teacher to do twice as much work, as well as deal with the mess of having to keep up with all these students' assignments - and high school teachers often have 150 students.

Same thing with a test. You want to test them over the ideas in "1984," but since no one read the book, they all fail miserably. But why should they study when they know that they can always just make up the test. If you give them the same test again, they have already seen the questions and can just go and find the answers on the Internet or from a friend. You can give them a different test, but then you have to create an extra test, which is very difficult and time consuming. To make a college-quality multiple choice exam, I often spend 5 hours on 50 questions. But what if they just fail the test again, since they still haven't read the book? Well they get to take it again if they want, right, since the policy is that any failed exam gets to be made up... so then you have the same problem all over again, and again - the only person working here is the teacher.

So the consequences of the policy are:

1. Fewer students will work harder, study harder, or work to complete assignments on time.
2. Teachers will be burdened with more paperwork, more time wasting phone calls, the need for creating backup assignments and tests for the assignments and tests they have already created, and the hassle of having to grade and regrade, as well as having to deal with all these students coming after school or during conference periods needing to make up stuff. It's an impossible situation for them, and the result will be that more teachers will leave the profession.

So if DISD wants students to learn less, become less responsible, and wants more teachers to leave the profession, this is just the policy to result in those outcomes.


To Bill, from yet another DISD teacher (high school):
The article you quote is about why it's a wise idea to stop giving grades below 50. I agree with that point, and moreover, I think it's time that districts around the country realized the folly of having gone to a numeric system again. It introduces a false sense of precision that invites bickering over immaterial differences in performance and makes grading into even more of a high-stakes proposition than it already was. However, that's not the issue at stake in the current blog entry.

The problem with the new policy is that rather than providing the *option* to create a makeup system, providing administrators and faculty with staff development to explain why it should be considered, and encouraging the use of the option, this policy bulldozes right over any ability to exercise professional judgment. Under the previous policy, no teacher I know ever was prevented from working out an arrangement like this when appropriate, or even from having a personal policy of accepting late work without penalty (often with caveats). There also were administrative options to let students come in and do credit-recovery work, and students who were at all serious about their credits and work did so, while others hurried to sign up, then quit going after a couple of weeks. Similarly, most teachers permit re-testing or provide a way to do comparable work to bring a failing test grade up to the mark. I'm all for the elimination of "fluff" grades for behavior (indeed, it was my understanding such were already verboten).

As for real life, in much of the work world -- where my students will be soon or already are -- consistently missing deadlines could cost them their employment. I think the policy changes might be appropriate for elementary grades and perhaps even middle school, but by high school, forcing teachers to have absolutely no penalty for late submission is doing the students no favor at all.

My first instinct when I read this on the DMN page: Turn in my resignation and raise the white flag. We're surrendering all common sense, all professional judgment, and our students' best interests at a time when the district from which I proudly graduated is reaching legendary levels of incompetence and mismanagement.

Jason G

A former DISD teacher here who finds the grading policy of the district an abhorrent abomination. This policy has nothing to do with helping students achieve, it's all about inflating grades for the district's sake. It teaches children that you can get halfway to success by doing nothing and short circuits all attempts to teach young people that personal responsibility and discipline will help them in life. We send these kids into the real world with the idea that they don't have to work hard and that they don't have to be accountable. Meanwhile, the district looks a little better under No Child Left Behind. You can quote me findings regurgitated from Dallas ISD, but when you look into the eyes of a kid who has worked their butt off to get a 70 sitting next to a lazy brat who did nothing for a 50, you can see that this policy is sick. Absolutely sick.

Lets Talk Logic

DISD faces a number of problems that won't be fixed by changing a grading system. The real problem is the students failure to do work. Instead of requiring more work on the teacher, put responsibility on the students and their parents. A teacher is their to facilitate a child learning, which is what all the latest education trends/articles are pushing for. But a teacher can not do their job when the students and their parents apathetic. So, more importantly we should find out why the students chose not to do the assignment. Because once these lazy kids get into the real world, they will not get second chances or be forgiven for their mistakes. Would you forgive your nurse for not administrating your medicine at hospital, or the ER doctor not answer their page promptly when you are having a heart attack? Or the police failing to stop kidnapper, because it was time for their coffee break? At some point in time students have to become responsible for their own learning. If we continue down this path that DISD has initaited then America will further slip behind the rest of the world and we will be living in state of "Idiocracy"

debbie s.

As a teacher in DISD I am disgusted with the change in grading/homework policy. Last year I felt the district finally made a good decision to move in the direction of accountability with the instituting of the Principles of Learning, Learning Walks, etc.. It wasn't that it was a "new" concept that nobody had ever tried or that people were not doing these types of things already , it was a move towards teacher/school/student accountability that was tangible. The logical next step was to attain parental responsibility/accountability. The "Road to Broad" will surely be lost to this new policy change. Accountability and responsibility (isn't that part of the character counts that we have been pushing???) begins in kindergarten!!! We will surely set them up for failure if we don not demand more, not less! As the others have said teachers are already making concessions based on the individuals students situation and "effort" but the "overarching" theme or message for all students should be that they are responsible for their learning, not just the teacher. With this new change it leaves the teachers powerless. What I see is an increase in the "slacker" group that is already having trouble reading and passing a TAKS test, more children with passing grades on their report cards but not being able to pass the TAKS test even with the three tries they already get! Wake up DISD, effort = results, the more effort the greater the results.

Congratulations on devaluing education.


A grade is not a punishment or reward. It is (should be) simply an indication of the level of mastery in a subject. If a student did not read 1984, what is their level of mastery? Zero. A 50% implies that they mastered at least 50% of the material, which they did not. I agree with the fluff grades not being valid since bringing your notebook to class does not reflect mastery of 1984. I would however support a policy that requires the majority or even the total grade to be based on tests and projects that reflect knowledge or skills gained. Unfortunately this new policy is designed to do just exactly the opposite. The current plan would allow a student who turned in his homework but fail every test to pass the class. I cannot understand how anyone would support a plan that deliberatly leaves kids totally unprepared for any kind of future.

Rick C.

If doing no homework or any classwork whatsoever gets you a "50", then the powers that be need to award more points for correctly spelling your own name on the SAT's. They deserve more credit.

Timothy McDonough PhD

These children will not be prepared for life after DISD. In college there are no such accommodations. Even trades that do not require a post secondary education do not offer opportunities that reflect this policy. Society will deal harshly with these children and they will certainly fail in life with much misery. This policy will project the failure of the DISD administration to the society as a whole as these unprepared children fail to integrate with the world around them. It will result in an inevitable rise in social maladies such as crime, substance abuse, broken families, despair and suicide.

Let this be fair warning to the Board and the administrators they hire: this policy contains the seeds of a taxpayer insurrection that will extinguish the political careers and ambitions of all you who so foolishly promote it. Trust me.

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