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Do students who fail an assignment deserve the ultimate symbol for such a deed — zero?

That’s the policy of the Department of Defense Educational Activity. But some people inside and outside the school system think that assigning students a higher “failing” mark — such as 50 out of 100 — is more equitable.

One of those people is Archie Bates, superintendent for the Mediterranean District for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe. He sent school administrators a memo before the school year urging them to ask teachers to explore other alternatives.

He asks principals “to work toward the elimination of zero as a grade given in our district.”

Zeroes unfairly affect a student’s grade, because the range for failing is so large, Bates said. For instance, if a student had a perfect score of 100 on one assignment and didn’t do another, he would receive an average grade of 50 under the current grading system. That’s a failing mark.

But if the failed assignment was listed as a 50 instead of 0, the average would be 75, a passing mark. Those who consistently earned 50s would still be failing.

Bates said students should have every chance to complete assignments — with, if needed, teachers’ help — but he would be against completely doing away with zeroes.

“I’m just saying that would be a last resort,” he said.

While some who saw the memo thought that Bates was adopting a new policy, he said that’s not the case. Such policies can only come from Joseph Tafoya, the DODEA director, and usually involve consultations with teachers and parents.

“What I am doing is trying to get ahead of the curve,” Bates said recently.

It’s an issue that DODEA is looking at, said Frank O’Gara, the system’s public affairs officer.

“I know there have been some discussions on the numerical value assigned to an ‘F,’ ” O’Gara said, adding that he didn’t think a decision was imminent.

Marie Sainz-Funaro, president of the Overseas Federation of Teachers, which represents a majority of educators in the district, said there were two sides to the issue.

“I think you’re going to have people on one side or the other who feel strongly about it,” she said.

A few parents surveyed Monday at Aviano Air Base said they were against changing the policy.

“I think they should be taught at a young age to turn in their work on time,” said Capt. Marcus Calderon of the 603rd Air Control Squadron. “Free points just don’t cut it with me.”

“I know the teachers here go above and beyond to get the kids to do the work,” said Master Sgt. Joe Graves from the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron, on the way to pick up his fifth-grader. “I don’t think (students) have any excuses not to be doing the work.”

“Don’t do the work, don’t get the points,” said Staff Sgt. Clive Chipman, shaking his head in agreement.

Markel Davis, a student at the high school, said if she didn’t do the work, she wouldn’t want a zero.

“But if I do my work and someone else doesn’t, I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. “I’m a good student and I do the work.”

“I think if a person hasn’t turned in work for more than two times, they should get a zero,” said fellow freshman Lakeisha Stephens. “Because you know they’re not trying. Otherwise, give them a 50.”

Sainz-Funaro said students and parents at districts with no-zero policies in the States have weighed in on Internet postings. Some say students who aren’t doing the work should get zeroes and giving them more credit isn’t fair to those who successfully complete assignments.

Sainz-Funaro said that no one in her membership wants to fail a student.

“As adults and professionals, we have a responsibility to do something about kids who are not doing the homework or doing well on tests,” she said. “You can’t give them an opportunity to cop out. Whether or not that means giving a zero …”

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