School districts across the country, such as those in Fairfax County, Virginia, and Prince George County, Maryland, are taking a second look at grades and opting for “no zero policies” for middle and high school students. The result: It’s impossible for kids to garner any grades below 50%, not even for a flat-out fail, or, for that matter, cheating–as long, that is, “a reasonable attempt” was made.

Moreover, now, before high school teachers can fail students, they must first reevaluate them using “quality points,” thereby making an F less damaging to a final grade.

Remember that quality points refer to the cumulative points used to calculate a student’s end-of-year grade point average, or GPA. When calculating, an A = 4 points; a B = 3 points; a C = 2 points; a D = one point; with none for an F. So, for example, if a student gets an A (4 points) in a 3-credit course, he ends up with a total of 12. By the same token, a B (3 points) in a 4-credit course also comes out to 12, while a C (2 points) in a 2-credit course comes out to 4, and so on.

Needless to say, controversy swirls around “no zero” policies, with educators on both sides of the argument. Those in favor, say they…

  1.  Give more chances to make up tests and hand in missing work;
  2. Improve the drop-out rate;
  3. Help struggling students stay motivated;
  4. Allow schools to focus on learning instead of behavior;
  5. Increase classroom focus;
  6. Are fairer than typical grading systems;
  7. Promote learning;
  8. Encourage students to catch up when they fall behind instead of giving up;
  9. Increase a students’ chances of bringing their grades up, an impossible feat with a zero.

All noble sounding, but not everyone is buying into it. As a 9th grade English teacher put it, “It gives those kids who aren’t willing to put in the hard work like everyone else an out.” Other not-in-favor educators also point out that such policies…

  1. Decrease student accountability;
  2. Reduce motivation;
  3. Artificially boost grades;
  4. Mask a student’s lack of knowledge and understanding;
  5. Push unprepared students onward;
  6. Compromise students’ readiness for college- and/or career.
  7. Are akin to social promotion;
  8. Hinder thoroughness and conscientiousness;
  9. Are not in line with college professors grading policies;
  10. Don’t realistically prepare students for college and/or the workplace;
  11. Don’t consider employers not giving passes for shoddy work.

Nevertheless, impossible-to-fail “policies are gaining ground, with some schools aiming to toss out grades altogether.  After all, says education expert and author Alfie Kohn, “Grades are relics from a less enlightened age,” going on to assert that they’re not only unnecessary but harmful.

What say you?