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“How about I not take this test and you give me a 50?”: More Grading Scale Discussion

September 27, 2018

On September 25, 2018, I posted about Florida teacher, Diane Tirado, losing her job because she refused to follow a “no zeroes” policy and award 50 percent credit on assignments that students chose not to hand in.

The next day, as I was preparing to give one of my students a make-up test, the student looked at me and asked, “How about I not take this test and you give me a 50?”

I did a double take. “Did you read my post?”


“I just wrote a piece about this issue on my blog. A Florida teacher was fired for not giving 50s to students who did not turn in their work.”

He had not read my post (and had no idea I write an education blog). His timing just happened to be eerily spot-on.

Another student furrowed her brow and said, “Zero work, zero grade.”

My “no zeroes” post has generated much discussion on teacher groups on Facebook and some reaction in the comments section of my post. One idea that has emerged is the seeming unfairness of the number of percentage points whereby a student can receive and F compared to the limited number of percentage points for the remaining, passing, grades of A – D.  One commenter asked me, “An F is weighted 6 times as high as any of the others. Why would you want to do that to anyone?”

I take issue with the framing of the question. A student would have to work hard at not working in my class in order to maintain any F average, even a high one. I offer my students numerous opportunities to earn grades as well as variety in my assignments.

I also work with students experiencing extenuating circumstances.

And when they choose to forgo completing an assignment, they earn the resulting zero.

Even so, I understand the argument that the F category should not be so broad compared to other categories. However, I do not agree with awarding a 50 percent for no work.

There needs to be a true zero, in which no work receives no credit.

One could rightly argue that the commonly-used grading scales (i.e., the scale my district uses is 93 – 100 A; 85 – 92 B; 75 – 84 C; 67 – 74 D, and 0 – 66 F) are arbitrary and should be modified to offer a F-range that is more in line with other categories. Too meet this condition and include a true zero, for example, one might use the following:

  • 80 – 100 A
  • 60 – 79 B
  • 40 – 59 C
  • 20 – 39 D
  • 00 – 19 F

I see two immediate issues with such a scale. First of all, this scale, with its balanced grading categories, is a much more lenient scale compared to currently-used grading scales and arguably promotes grade inflation by comparison. Secondly, using such a scale in K-12 education (or K-4, or K-8) presents a problem at whatever point the scale is replaced by the currently-used, more stringent scale.

Even if K-12 education adopts the “new and balanced” scale above, I would do a disservice to my high school seniors to use such a scale if they plan to attend a postsecondary institution that utilizes the current, more stringent scale whereby, for example, 66 and below is a F.

In short, making drastic shifts to the grading scale will present some real problems unless the shift occurs in K-12 and postsecondary ed, at least for an entire state.

Such shifts would require major public support. I don’t see it happening.

As for 50 percent being the lowest grade a student can earn (even for doing nothing), many will take the 50 rather than face a challenging assignment. And kids are smart when it comes to cutting corners. A comment on my blog:

I am a parent in a district that does everything in its power to give kids good grades so that they don’t have to hear the parents. My own children know this and will calculate how many assignments they can miss without having it affect their grade OR how low a grade on a test so that it doesn’t affect their grade. This angers me as a parent! I want my kids to learn responsibility. I would rather my kid get a 50% for doing the assignment incorrectly than to get a 50% for doing absolutely nothing. How does this teach kids any kind of responsibility?

In my classroom, my student might have asked to get a 50 for doing nothing, but you best believe he did not really think I’d agree.

“Zero work, zero grade” puts personal responsibility at a premium.



Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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  1. Socrates permalink

    I wonder if you could refuse to show up for your job at all and still draw 50 percent of your pay.

  2. The modified scale that you present IS the scale that K-5 uses. In the traditional grading format A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1 and F=0. If a student is given two assignments in which he makes a perfect score on one and does zero work on the other, the student has a C average. When they get to high school and do the same thing, they have a 50%, or an F. Two years ago, my principal asked me to find out why we do this. I have not found the answer; however, I understand the intent in assigning a 50%, but it is contrary to the more rigorous scale that was adopted when the state went from a 10 point scale to a 7 point scale.

    • LisaM permalink

      The reason to do this is to get/keep parents out of the school. If parents are happy with the grades there are no reasons for the parents to call the school to have meetings with teachers, admin and guidance counselors. If parents don’t know how schools are run, how are they ever to question ed reform at its finest? I have found that the public schools in my area (we are test centric and test prep CC curriculum) will do everything they can to keep parents from asking questions. I have been emailed by many teachers(MS level) asking me to cancel my parent conferences because my children have good grades and the slot would be better used by a parent whose child is doing poorly…..I acquiesced once and found those same teachers with no parent in the room in the slot that I ceded. Other times when I ignored the emails and went to the meeting, I was asked what I wanted to know because my children were doing “just fine”. One time, there was a guidance counselor present because the teacher didn’t want to meet with me alone! I had NEVER been rude or disrespectful to this teacher…..I simply requested that my child be placed into a lower math class because he wasn’t ready for higher level maths. Tell me that doesn’t sound like rotten fish sitting in the sun? I’m not teacher blaming, but why do teachers not want to meet with parents who may have questions regarding their children? Maybe teachers don’t want to answer to the reforms/policies that they are mandated to abide by? Just an FYI…..we have no opt out in our state, so I had to refuse the tests every year…..admin granted my refusal every year because they knew I had knowledge and they knew I would use it if I had to. The object was to keep me happy and out of the school at all cost. Absences were excused for child #2 for in school/all day SEL seminars (data collection) and SEL assignments were excused and given no score at all.

  3. How can knowing 20% of the material taught earn a student a passing (D) grade?
    For the many kids looking for the path of least resistance, this bar is way too low.
    This just proves that all of the talk about academic rigor, is just that.

    The “50 minimum” policy is a by-product of the current 40 week timeline for producing a final grade.

    All it takes is one very low marking period to make passing for the year so improbable that marginal students quit working. The fix is rather simple: Shorten the timeline for academic success to 10 weeks. That’s right, four independent marking periods in which credit is earned at the 10 week mark. Students get four chances to re-set their opportunities for academic success without past failure counting against them. Restorative grading works for my school in just such a way.

  4. Duane E Swacker permalink

    Or perhaps do the most logical and ethical thing–get rid of grading students altogether.

  5. Robert Manley permalink

    How about offering students opportunities to gain points for their grade each quarter? A 3 question quiz is worth 3 points, a 10 question chapter exam is worth 10 points, a highly effective class presentation is worth 15 points.
    Reverse the assessment system from a deficit measurement process to an gain system.

  6. Mercedes: you miss the point entirely. There is an absolute zero. it is the integer 0. The 4-point scale consists of 5 integers: 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4. These equate to grades of F, D, C, B and A. If you want to be fair, grade tests and assignments with one of these numerical values. If a student does not turn in an assignment, give that student a zero, not 6 zeros, which is what you do when using a percent scale between 0 and 100. The school in question is not giving more credit (or any credit) to a student by giving them a 50. The school has converted the percent system into a 4-point system: 50-59 equates to 0, 60-69 equates to 1, 70-79 equates to 2; 80-89 equates to 3; and 90-100 equates to 4. They have the right mathematical approach to grading by weighting scores equally. AGAIN DO NOT CONFUSE A SCORE OF 50 AS GETTING ANY CREDIT FOR A MISSING ASSIGNMENT. IT IS NOT! IN THEIR USE OF THE GRADING SYSTEM THEY HAVE ADOPTED. Also you use the term “lenient” in your analysis. You say, and I paraphrase, that a balanced scale is much more lenient…and promotes grade inflation. You expose to me in that statement an attitude that implicitly condones punishing kids for not doing well on a test, the less well they do, the more you want to punish them. I abhor this attitude. In addition a percent scale, or any scale for that matter, assumes that the numerical value scored on a test represents the percentage of the subject matter and skills that a student understands and has mastered. I challenge anyone, anywhere to demonstrate that the questions on their test are capable of representing the subject matter to such a high correlation. It is utter nonsense to think that they even come close. The only solution to the grading game is to give either an A or nothing to each student who takes a course of study. An A represents mastery of the skills related to the subject matter of study. Teachers determine the list of skills they would like to see a student master in order to receive an A. These are peer-reviewed so as not to be arbitrary and capricious. A student need not have a scarlet letter stamped on their foreheads for attempting to learn a skill which they may not have the cognitive ability to accomplish.

    • If I missed the point, then there would be no need for this school to write “NO ZEROS!” in red in its student/parent handbook.

      You miss my point: I will not give a student a 50 percent for turning in no work. Students are quick to try to game this, to figure out how to free-ride those 50s and manage to pass in the end.

    • Another topic: MCS stands for, which is a private blog. You have a lot to write in the comments on my public blog, yet you keep your own blog private. What gives?

      • You are still having trouble mapping scores in the range 50-59 to a big, fat zero. You are still having trouble with a grading system that weights the numerical range for each grade division the same. You want kids not only to fail, but to have several layers of failure. Let’s say 50-59 means failed; 40-49 means failed badly, 30-39 means failed miserably, 20-29 abject failure, 10-19 abysmal failure and 0-9 may they rot in hell forever. You also want to accept a grading system using numerical values from 0-100 that are supposed to correlate precisely with the skill set being learned – that my friend is not even remotely possible.

        When I was an undergraduate I took a course in mechanical drawing. The instructor would put little red circles around what he perceived were errors in my drawings. The score I got for a drawing ranged from 0 to infinity depending on the number of red circles I received. A zero on a drawing was an A, 1 a B, 2 a C, 3 a D, 4 or more an F. You would think that an F would be enough notice but not in his scheme of things. He would keep drawing circles until he ran out of ink if he could. I got scores of 12, 13, 14 or more than one occasion. Now to compute a grade he would average your scores for all your drawings for the semester. Say mine were 0, 2, 1, 1, 3, 14, 1, 0, 2, 2, 1, 12. The average of those scores is 4.0. I would have flunked had I gotten those scores, most of which were quite reasonable. Let’s substitute a 4 in place of the 14 and 12. Now my average is 2.4 which on truncating to the closest integer is 2 and I would have received a C for the course. Note that this totally unfair way of grading performance is exactly what we do to kids when we adopt a percent scale which has its base of zero 60 points away from a 59 which is considered a failing grade in some schools. We need to let kids fail without penalty in order that they learn from their mistakes and still have the confidence and self esteem to keep trying. Then, at the end, reward, not punish them, for their effort. How many times did you fall when you were learning to walk? Is there a table on the back of your birth certificate showing the number of times you fell and grading your ability to walk on that basis? And then having it put in your permanent health records for all the world to see and judge you by? I don’t think so.

        MCS is a technical project for those interested in learning how to solve problems that arise in the context of complex systems. Both the website and the WordPress site are currently under construction. MCS techniques can be applied to any complex system but we have focused our attention on biosystems with the hope of improving the problem solving skills of those involved in the research of cancer, aging, immunology, and nutrition. The approach stresses systems thinking as opposed to simple cause and effect relations when seeking solutions. The primary site will be We also own the same domain names ending in .com, and .org. The WordPress site will be the discussion forum for what you see on the website. We expect these sites to be up and running in early November. Please join us by logging into the WordPress site at that time- it will still be private, but we will look for you.

        I have been a teacher for over 20 years at all levels of education and in addition to a couple of science and engineering degrees and professional certificates, I have an M. Ed. in environmental ed. An additional 30 years has overlapped with teaching somewhat featuring a career in systems engineering. I have very strong opinions about the way public education should be conducted. You can read about them on my hobby website Look under exposition. My Facebook page has many long essays on education as well: handle “garrettahughes”.

        That’s enough for one night.

      • Thank you for the background on your work.

        ANd no need for any more lengthy attempts to reach me intellectually:

        I’ll just take the 50.

  7. No. No 50% for refusing to take a test, do a project, etc.

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