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The "No Zero" policy in Education is a beneficial first step in an education system overhaul

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/16/2015 Category: Education
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 723 times Debate No: 75384
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
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The "No Zero" policy has proven fairly controversial, so I thought I'd bring it up for debate.

By "No Zero" policy, I refer to the movement in education that if an assignment is not turned in, that some alternative to a grade of 0 (or F) be used.

By "Beneficial," I mean that this policy provides a greater benefit than any detrimental side effects.

Keep in mind that this argument is about this policy being a first (or early, in any case) step towards a massive system change. Both the policy itself, and the type of changes it is designed to accompany, are considered in this process.

So, here's my proposed breakdown of rounds:

Round 1. Acceptance, definition(s), and brief summary position.
Round 2. Primary points / questions
Round 3. Rebuttal / answers
Round 4. Conclusion (no new arguments)

Thank you to whomever takes up my challenge!

My summary position is thus:

The No Zero policy is an introductory effort to change the fundamental approach to grading, and the nature of academic appraisal of student development. This process, though incomplete, is an ultimately beneficial one.

Thank you to whomever accepts my challenge! :)


I accept.

Here are rules that should apply for the rounds:
1. Arguments should be based on logic; e.g. no citing anecdotes for emotional appeal
2. Try to avoid outright insults; no ad hominems
3. Since you are the instigator of this topic, you have the burden of proof
4. All evidence should be cited or sourced (please provide a URL that we can all access)
5. In the next round, you should specify what age group we are debating about. (In order to have a fair debate, both sides need to agree upon what topic they are debating, and different age groups would require different arguments.)

Summary position:
An all-inclusive "No Zero" policy would decrease motivation and cause grade-inflation. Also, since you are advocating for an "educational overhaul" (as stated in the topic), you must point out the flaws in the current educational system.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for accepting this debate! I look forward to seeing your arguments.

I accept the rules as stated. The age range I would like to focus on is high school, though I would like to note that the arguments could well be extended to other age ranges.

As the No Zero policy is a part of the assessment aspect of education, I will focus exclusively on strengths and weaknesses of educational assessment. For simplicity of reference, I will refer to the common, USA standard of education where failure to turn in assignments merits a 0 (or equivalent) as the traditional grading model, contrasting with the No Zero grading model.

The flaws, issues, and challenges of educational assessment are numerous, and at times, complex.

The traditional method of grading mixes a large number of factors into a single grade:

The student"s demonstrated knowledge of a subject
The student"s demonstrated skill with a subject

Behavioural factors:
The student"s willingness to do extra credit work
The student"s attendance record (often schools will have various grade rewards/punishments for attendance related issues)
"A for Effort!" (directly giving grade boosts based on effort / behaviour)
Participation marks.
Failure to turn in assignments.

Specifically, this debate will concern the above. However, I will quickly list out a few other concerns with grading: teacher consistency (different teachers giving different grades), the lack of complex skill testing in standardized testing, the lack of simple, unmarked feedback that improves grades (called formative assessment) due to the prevalence of work marked for grades. And so on - again, the list of concerns is fairly extensive, but doesn"t immediately relate to the debate.

Here"s an example of why it"s a problem.

Say you have two kids, Adam and Bob. Adam is absolutely brilliant, academically perfect, but the kid is arrogant, defiant, and refuses to cooperate to any degree. Bob is below average, but the kid tries his hardest, always doing his best.

Adam"s grades are either 0 (for missed assignments) or 98-100%. Bob"s grades hover around 70%. With all of Adam"s long list of missed assignments (but doing just enough to pass), he gets a final grade of 70% - just like Bob!

They both have the same grade, now. But in what sense are they the same? They"re not the same academically, behaviourally, or in pretty much any sense at all. So what does that grade of "70%" even mean? It tells you virtually nothing - this kid is, in some unknown fashion, imperfect. Maybe the kid is brilliant but lazy, maybe the kid is average, maybe the kid can barely pass a test to save his life, but gets lots of extra credit work" and it all works out to be the same.

Parents and universities care about the grades, but from a teaching standpoint, it"s just north of useless.

The fundamental purpose of the No Zero policy is to attempt to start the process of splitting the idea of "grades" into multiple categories. Advocates of the No Zero policy are starting by attempting to remove behavioural aspects from the grading system - in other words, let"s have grades mean just one thing: academic ability.

By removing the behavioural aspects from the grading system, it becomes possible to begin introducing a behavioural grade (whatever it ends up being called). Since there"s a long standing grade system in place, it was relatively easy to make this tiny change (the No Zero policy"s very, very simple to implement), but addressing behavioural problems needs its own framework.

A common complaint about the No Zero policy is that it"s not like work, where failing to do an assignment isn"t okay. That"s simply not true. In work, there"s a huge difference between an awful bit of work and failing to do it entirely. Real life jobs don"t "average out" the good projects with the missing ones - if you don"t do something you need to do, that"s a serious offense, a serious behaviour problem, that can very quickly get you outright fired. It"s giving zero"s for missing assignments that"s not like the real world. Missing assignments needs to be addressed far more seriously than just giving a low grade.

In short, the purpose of the No Zero policy is to separate academic achievement from behavioural achievement in the grading system, allowing (and perhaps forcing) schools to address missing assignments as what they actually are - a serious behavioural issue.


The primary purpose of high school is to prepare students for later in their life (especially, but not limited to, college).

Grades are numerical summaries of a student's performance in classes, and in regards to college admissions, grades are easy indicators a student's abilities and effort.
The reason that colleges see grades, which are numerical summaries, as opposed to seeing the student's performance on each assessment, is that college admission officers often have to deal with thousands of applicants and have a limited amount of time.
Providing separate grades for behavioral and academic performance, despite providing more information about a student, is largely inefficient.

This binary system of grades is also subject to possible abuse:
For example, with the two kids you gave, Adam could turn in assignments that he literally wrote random answers for in order to avoid having a "missed assignment" and a bad "behavior grade" with minimal effort.
In addition to that example, Bob might come across an assignment that he does not know how to do. Since Bob already has a high "behavior grade," he might decide not to turn in the assignment in order to avoid dropping his "academic grade" even lower at the cost of his "behavior grade."

The "binary grade system" would also pose a few dilemmas:
If Adam does not turn in an assignment, then what grade should he receive on that assignment?
How would a teacher grade behavior? Would they start a grade with a 100 and then deduct a point for each behavior issue?
Should behavior grades count toward a student's GPA?

Finally, grading behavior is far too subjective, which would make a behavior grade meaningless in some classes. Teachers' responses to certain behaviors might be entirely different.
For example, suppose we have teachers A and B. If a student points out a mistake that the teacher made, Teacher A might interpret that as being rude, but Teacher B might appreciate being corrected.
Another example: a teacher might show favoritism in "behavior grading" that would be reflected on a student's "behavior grade." If Teacher A had Adam as a student, then Teacher A could give Adam a good behavior grade and no one could argue against it. On the other hand, a grade that uses the conventional "point system" in which all assignments are given a certain number of "points" would be more objective.

In summary, a two-grade system that separates behavior grades and academic grades has multiple disadvantages and somewhat strays from the topic that we are arguing about: a "No Zero Policy."

Debate Round No. 2


Khana forfeited this round.


My opponent forfeited her round, so extend all my arguments.
Debate Round No. 3


My humblest apologies for failing to post. I thought I"d have time this week, and apparently, I was mistaken :/

The conduct point is lost, of course, but I hope to still win the argument points!

"In summary, a two-grade system that separates behavior grades and academic grades has multiple disadvantages and somewhat strays from the topic that we are arguing about: a "No Zero Policy.""

That is true, it is straying a bit - the purpose of the No Zero Policy is to separate out behavioural issues from the grading policy, in an attempt to make grades actually mean something - it isn"t about a specific model for the end result. The meaning that academia has chosen to apply to grades is academic, and therefore they aim (via the No Zero policy) to remove behavioural components from the grade.

The two grade system presented by my opponent is undeniably fraught with difficulties. Quite clearly, his hypothetical model would not work, and should not be applied.

Ultimately, though, this debate is about the No Zero policy, its implications, and the problems it attempts to resolve. I hope that all voters can clearly see the problems with the hypothetical students Adam and Bob above - with a No Zero policy in place, they no longer receive the same grade for their vastly disparate behaviour. Adam receives the higher grade, reflecting something with actual meaning - he is more successful academically than Bob. An actual conclusion can be drawn - which is the point of grades.

"It"s okay if I get a zero on that paper, I"ll make it up elsewhere in the grade." - This source discusses the problems with the traditional system in depth.

This brings in my last point. This viewpoint, quoted above, quite simply works with a give-0"s-for-failure policy. I, admittedly, have done it myself.

This isn"t educational. This isn"t "Real Life." This doesn"t work. It isn"t okay to simply fail to do something that you"re supposed to do - any real job would throw a fit. And by that, I mean, would probably fire you. They don"t average it in, they take it extremely seriously.

The No Zero policy, on the surface, sounds like it"s trying to make a "no failure" system, sounds like it"s going to let students get away with refusal to complete assignments. It is, in fact, the opposite. It is an attempt to push schools into taking missed assignments far more seriously than a simple 0 that the students can average out and ignore. It is intended to force schools into developing local systems - since no such thing can be properly implemented en masse - that will address behavioural problems with all the weight and importance they deserve.

In summary, the No Zero policy is the opposite of what it is accused of being. It is fundamentally designed to make grades meaningful, but contrary to the accusations against it, it is a step towards making missed assignments the most extreme type of failure possible.


zhangwn forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by zhangwn 1 year ago
Sorry, I did not read the comments when I posted my argument and asked for an age group
Posted by Khana 1 year ago
Good point, I should have clarified.

The big controversy was over implementing No Zero policies at the high school level. I doubt there's much controversy for No Zero policies at elementary, and I doubt there's a chance of No Zero policies at university :P

As such, it was the high school level that I was thinking of.

As far as, "In lieu of zeros, will kids have to stay after and finish the assignment?" That is a No Zero policy - literally anything other than applying a failing grade (whether it's a 0, or F, or variants thereof) is a No Zero policy. I'm not advocating a specific version of the No Zero policy (there's bunches, and I have opinions, but that's not the focus of this debate). I'm just advocating the fundamental idea itself.
Posted by hatshepsut 1 year ago
More preliminaries needed: What age are the students in question? Zeros may be very appropriate for high school but not for 2nd grade. Are there lots of assignments so that getting one "zero" doesn't kill chances to pass the course? In lieu of zeros, will kids have to stay after and finish the assignment? and so on.
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