Administration & MCPS don’t see eye to eye on no zero policy


Courtesy of Ela Jalil

WCHS recently implemented a rule where students could not get zeroes, but when caught under fire, reversed the policy back to students being able to receive them

By Jeremy Fredricks, Assistant Opinions Editor

For a brief period in the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, WCHS had a policy where students could earn a minimum grade of 50%, not 0%. The policy would have applied to students who submitted nothing, had cheated or committed plagiarism (and still receive half credit). 

Aside from its intentions, it contradicted MCPS policy. It said, “If a student does no work on the task/assessment, the teacher will assign a zero.” 

Ultimately, the decision was retracted by WCHS. 

“It was a false interpretation of a policy on my end,” Principal Brandice Heckert said. “It wasn’t like we sat and said we were going to negate the Board of Education. There was a little bit of language that was misinterpreted”

Heckert believed the primary benefitters of the rule would have been students who needed additional motivation from teachers in order to complete an assignment. The conversation began with making grades parallel in like courses, regardless of the teacher.

“Our intention was to make sure that we were grading on what a student knows,” Heckert said. “We wanted to ensure that a student is getting parallel experiences. With that came an article and some research around how to get rid of the zero. Grades can be used as a punishment and that not completing something is more a behavior, then what you know.”

Heckert and the leadership team wanted to see what impact a zero had on different categories. They compared different teachers’ gradebooks and saw what impact a zero had in different courses.

Before making the decision, Heckert and the leadership team did intensive research on “Grading For Equality” by Joe Feldman. According to the book, “Zeros for missing work…send a message to a student that…didn’t submit an assignment and spur [them] to change [their] behavior.”

The administration decided to implement the plan for the 2019-2020 school year. However, students and teachers had concerns over some parts of the policy.

Inflation was a key, recurring point. The change of students’ mindsets and lack of advanced knowledge were also concerns.

“The inflation piece is not what the emphasis was, but I understand the whole commotion of everyone getting something for nothing,” Heckert said. “That wasn’t the spirit behind it.” 

In a recent Observer Instagram poll, 30 of 44 students did not support the rule change. Other students are conflicted in their feelings regarding the 50% rule. They see how it could have a negative impact on college acceptances, as our school would be viewed as not as competitive as other area schools. 

“It puts us below other students,” sophomore Mariam Coulibaly said. “If colleges found out, it would drop WCHS kids chance of getting into colleges.”

However Coulibaly also understands how it could come in handy. “Sometimes students have extenuating circumstances. Placing that zero has a very big effect. It gives students a second chance.”

However, many other students do not like any part of it. They believe that Zs (being a temporary zero), are better and serve as a reminder to catch up and complete overdue work.

“The automatic 50% is stupid,” sophomore Clara Goldberg. “I agree with going back to Z’s though, because Z’s are a nice reminder to turn something in. Just giving a 50% is encouraging students to not do it all, if they don’t care.”

For other students, the automatic 50% is not seen as clearly right or wrong. Queen Balina believes some students will benefit, but not her personally.

“It’s complicated,” Balina said. “I don’t support simply giving students points, when they haven’t done the work. But it’s hard for students to come back from that [a zero]. I don’t support it, but I get why they’re doing it. The rule would help students that don’t want to try, which isn’t want the administration should encourage; they should encourage effort in all schoolwork. ”

In her particular case though, Balina attempts to avoid the category completely (whether it was a Z or an automatic 50%) due to her strong academic goals. “50% would bring [my] grade down anyway, which would lead to me getting a low grade in the class.”

Still other students believe that students should be encouraged to keep going, and the focus on an old grade shouldn’t be the main concern.

 “Just because you get a bad grade, means that you shouldn’t try. School isn’t grades. They shouldn’t be worried about their grades, they should be worrying about their mindset,” sophomore Elizabeth Hays said. 

In addition, WCHS Honors Biology teacher Sara Nemati explained how the rule would have worked in her class. There would have been different percent values depending on if a student tried and failed, versus did not do the work.

“We would have given 50% for not turning things in, and would have awarded at least a 55% for someone who made an effort,” Nemati said. “There is a difference between someone who tries something and doesn’t get it, versus someone who doesn’t attempt it.”

Students also see some benefits, as the influence of 0% on their outlook would be strong. One missed assignment would still allow them to keep their overall grade for the most part and could reduce stress.

“Having the opportunity to have a net to catch you reduces a lot of stress off of students,” Coulibaly said. “They could lax off one assignment, and be able to maintain their grade, and focus on other things.

Even without the policy, Heckert still wants staff to still help students. She believes relationships have a big impact on how a student performs. 

“It goes back to relationships,” Heckert said. “There are some people in our lives, whether their teachers or whoever, that make us want to do more than what we’d normally do. We’re really looking to make sure we’re doing what’s best for kids. We’re getting them to want to do more. As a staff, when a kid does nothing, or before they do, what support are you going to put in place.”

Principal Heckert and her team went through different incidences in a staff meeting, giving the teachers the opportunity to decide what to do.

The teachers discussed the various fictional scenarios that described students struggling academically for various reasons. They talked about the reasons the students may be having difficulty and ways to help him or her.

“If a child does nothing, what structured support is there in place to get them to do something,” Heckert said.