No-zero policy meets resistance

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The school board's policy committee had a lively dialogue with teachers attending their meeting last week.

"I have been swamped with feedback from all over the county," said board member Randy Perryman to start the discussion on removal of the zero grade for work missed due to an unexcused absence. "One hundred percent of the teachers say it takes away their leverage. I feel it's extremely important to hold students accountable to prepare them for life after school. I move to withdraw this until we come up with a better idea."

"I second that," Dee Dee Owens said.

"Let's get some input from the people that are here," suggested Stan Curtis.

"Everyone I have talked to is against it," said Colin Beatty, who teaches at Marshall County High School and is one of the leaders of the Marshall County Education Association. "What would mean something to get them to come to school? What's a consequence that a student can recognize?"

"A zero is hard to make up," said chairwoman Ann Tears.

"A person who's honestly trying will not be doomed by one or two mistakes," disagreed Beatty. "We have enough trouble with truancy now."

"Is there something else punitive we can do besides the grade?" asked Curtis.

Ginger Hardison, who teaches at Cornersville High School, said that the threat of a zero grade seems effective.

"I've overheard students say, 'I'm here to take the test because I can't get a zero,'" she said. "We're sending the wrong message when there are no zeros," Hardison added.

"We want to hold them accountable," argued Curtis. "There's research out there that says zeros are not effective. In some districts, no zeros have been standard since 1984. There's a lot of things out there we could look at."

"Every senior passed English at Cornersville High," Hardison said. "I addressed individuals; I'd rather do that than pass a blanket policy."

"If all teachers intervened we wouldn't have failure," Curtis said.

"The issue is more: why is there someone making so many zeros?" said Hardison. "That pattern of behavior is the problem. One or two zeros and a kid can still pass - a pattern is a whole other issue."

Hardison and Patty Hill, another teacher who was present, described how they, and their schools' guidance departments, contact the parents of failing students.

"One student I was pushing - I had four parent conferences in nine weeks," said Hardison.

"I give the opportunity to make up work until the last day," said Hill, "But I'm not going to chase them indefinitely. I had four students miss over 35 days of school this year."

"Maybe the two of you should give an in-service covering the basics: documentation and intervention," Curtis exclaimed. "Some of our teachers may not know those techniques you're doing."

"Is makeup work up to the teachers?" asked Tears.

"Yes," answered Curtis. "No one has the right to change their grade book; it's a legal document."

"When we are behaving professionally we shouldn't have some of the issues - we should be handling it the way our experience and training have taught us," concluded Hardison.

"We need to duplicate that across the district," exclaimed Curtis. "We want input. If we figure out how to intervene without using grades, I'm fine with withdrawing it (the no-zero policy)."

Perryman's motion to withdraw the no-zero policy was carried unanimously.

In the "new business" portion of the meeting, Curtis reported that he had recruited a committee of principals to work on a standardized dress code this summer. "Maury County had a lot of community meetings" before adopting their dress policy, Curtis reported. Improved behavior and reduced costs for parents are cited as good reasons to implement a standardized dress code for middle and high school students.