How To Create A No-Zero Policy In Your Classroom

How To Create A No-Zero Policy In Your Classroom

Creating A No-Zero Policy In Your Classroom

by TeachThought Staff

One of my students came up to me at the beginning of this year and said, “I’ll be graduating next year because of you.” It was a wonderful experience and one that I hadn’t experienced before.

It was because I changed my policy on zeroes mid-year that this student was afforded the opportunity to pass when everything looked bleak. I don’t advocate a mid-year policy change, but after reading and considering my grading practices, I felt that not changing my policy would be deeply unfair to my students. Small change, big results.

What Does the Policy Look Like?

You could consider the following before you implement your policy.

How To Create A No-Zero Policy In Your Classroom

1. Involve the students
Though your students don’t ultimately control how you teach or grade, you do need to communicate with them about what you’re doing and why. Before changing grades, know what works and what doesn’t in your present system. Kids are wonderful resources for such feedback. Get really clear about that because you want to eliminate what does not work and keep what does.

2. You need to craft your plan
What is your plan for dealing with zeroes? What does it look like when kids receive zeroes and how are they allowed to make them up? What is your purpose behind grading? Summertime is a great time to do this. Read up on various grading strategies, and be prepared to be challenged in your thinking—that’s how growth occurs! The book that changed my grading practice was A Repair Kit for Grading by Ken O’Connor.

After honing our purpose for grading and fleshing out all the permutations and effects of a zero on the grade book, then you may wonder, what does this look like in real use? These are a few things I’ve used in my own practice. 3 tips:

  1. Use zeroes as place holders. This lets you, the student and the parent see what’s amiss.

  2. Have students fill out a quick form with the following information: student name, assignment missed with original due date, reason why the assignment is late, and when the assignment will be turned in. This creates a paper trail for you and can work as a point of organization.

  3. Once the date has passed, call the parents to schedule a time before, during or after school that the student comes in to make up the assignment.

See also 8 Ways To Create A Brain-Friendly Classroom

Generally, most students don’t want that third step to occur, so they avoid it by getting the work in. There are a few students, however, who are a bit tougher and parent contact becomes the linchpin for success. The purpose behind the system is for the zero to be more trouble than it’s worth—literally and figuratively—and to help students realize they still need to complete the work.

A Reminder: Formative Versus Summative Evaluations

There are times when the late grade has to be treated differently. It is difficult to give full credit to a student who is late because it isn’t fair to the other students in the class, but you still want the grade to accurately reflect student ability. The system is not perfect, but there are a few things that help create as accurate a picture as possible:

Formative assessments
Anything that isn’t a quiz or test gets docked about 25%. This helps me to keep the playing field fair for those who turn their work in on time and provides a stick to those who haven’t. Telling students what they would have gotten had their work not been late helps them see how turning work in on time helps their grade.

Summative assessments
Summative assessments are where we can really tap into student knowledge. They show what kids know. Because of this, summative assessments stand on their own merits without docking the grade to reflect lateness. That allows the parent, the student and teacher to see exactly what is or is not developed in the unit.


No system is 100% perfect for 100% of students. What do we do when a student demonstrates they know the content, but still has missing work (even after parent contact, etc)? How do we handle a student who refuses to turn in work, but has demonstrated content knowledge through passing summative assessments? What if parents are disengaged or unsupportive of this process?

Some teachers snag students during the school day during study halls, lunches or other times in order to help students who can’t or won’t stay after. Other teachers use summative assessments to fill in gaps in their formative assessments (for example an 80% on a test would mean filling in zeroes with 80’s).

Not every teacher will agree what is the best way to get rid of the zeroes. The big picture, though, is getting kids to learn—it’s figuring out how to help those students who have the most barriers towards getting work in and on time. Most road blocks will, with some creativity, be moved out of the way and you can find success with a no-zero policy.

Image attribution flickr user woodleywonderworks; How To Create A No-Zero Policy In Your Classroom