Malaysiakini Letter

Educators should not be too rigid in giving marks to students.

Azizi Ahmad
Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | In Malaysia, no student should be given a zero in their assessments. Educators should not be too rigid in giving marks to students.

Once a student enters the assessment centre and writes down their name and identification number, marks should be automatically given. But what if the candidate fails to turn up for the assessment?

This kind of grading policy is quite controversial and is rising in popularity across the country.

Believe it or not, educators at times are warned to set the lowest possible grade for any assignment or test at 50 percent, even when students turn in no work at all.

Many educational institutions have adopted similar approaches in recent years, and this means every student being graded under the system has a good opportunity to succeed.

The main aim of the grading policy is to provide scores in assessments which focuses on students’ skills, competencies, and work samples.

However, most teachers prefer “grades” which reflect the actual learning.

Grades are indicators of completed tasks and can also be considered as an actual indicator of proficiency.

We must realise that by providing free marks in assessments, we are allowing students to do minimal work and still pass. This approach doesn’t teach students the real-life consequences of not meeting their responsibilities.

This will lead to a huge number of incompetent candidates to fill up jobs, resulting in dire consequences for the industries concerned.

There is no doubt that grading systems can be tough and educators can be demanding on the students, but the onus is on the latter to either work hard and succeed.

Many educators are willing to give students a second chance but the students must work hard for it.

Some educators who know and understand their students (like learning disabilities, linguistic ability or working a job to support their families) understand the impact and the extent of the students’ abilities to succeed academically.

If a student misses a major assignment or assessment due to a home-life situation and receives a zero, that’s much more difficult to come back from academically than a 50 start-off point.

Some educators assume that giving very low grades or maybe zeros, in some will jolt the students to work harder.

However, the reality is that instead of working harder, the vast majority of students who get low grades or zeros tend to withdraw, try even less, and embrace absenteeism because they’re resigned to being a failure.

Being graded is also known to increase anxiety and decrease the interest in learning for students who struggle to cope with their studies.

While teachers who prefer to give zeros agreed that the low grades can dampen enthusiasm for learning, they pointed out that no-zero methods gives a false impression on a person’s real knowledge, skills and capabilities, and could cause long-term consequences, especially when seeking or starting off jobs.

A no-zero grading standard lets in college students who haven’t mastered the content to slip by, and they will find the going get tougher at the next hurdle, or even enter university totally unprepared.

We should not boost a candidate’s grade when they clearly don’t know the subject and lack determination.

If they aren’t geared up for the next grade, let them fail. It isn’t a punishment.

On the contrary, it is help.

At some point, our job as educators has to be to prepare them for the real world.

Giving students productive feedback requires nuance as children are different.

In most cases, some educators in schools with a no-zero policy give a slightly higher grade to students who put in effort.

Teachers with more flexibility say they give slightly lower scores to students who don’t try at all.

Others put students’ original scores on their papers, but mark 50 percent in their grade book so students and their caregivers know the grade that reflects their actual understanding.

Educators can also give remarks that allow communication to students and parents so as to distinguish where the student needs improvement.

Examples include NM stands for non-mastery, AB for absent, NHI for not handing in assignments, and DNA for did not attempt.

Grading is more about the feedback provided and the expectations set by the teacher to contextualize the grade.

Consider this scenario: When a student hands in an assignment and the work deserves an “F”, an educator can choose to write down “do better next time” or “come to my room when you are free and you can re-do your assignment”.


The writer is a senior educator.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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