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St. Lucie County superintendent talks about 'no zero' grading policy

Posted at 8:51 PM, Sep 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-26 09:39:17-04

The St. Lucie Public Schools superintendent is defending the grading philosophy referred to as a "no zero" grading system, which has gone viral because of a former teacher's Facebook post, because he says it ensures struggling students don’t fall behind, while also more accurately assessing children on what they've learned throughout the semester.

RELATED: Teacher pens whiteboard goodbye to students over 'no zero' grading policy

“You want to make sure that the grade themselves are not punitive in nature. Students are required to meet certain standards. If you don’t meet it on the first shot then we’re going to give you other opportunities to meet it," Superintendent E. Wayne Gent said, in a sit-down interview Tuesday afternoon.

Gent said students who have difficulty in school don’t often feel positive academic pressure from simply being given a zero when they don't turn in an assignment.

"The easy way is to say, 'Ok, we’re going to move on and leave you behind,' and that student is going to be unsuccessful," he said. "That’s not the culture that we’ve established in the school district.”

Gent reminds people a 50 percent is still a failing grade, which on a four-point grade point average scale is considered a 0.

"We’re not making it easy for students," he said. "It’s holding them accountable. It’s rigor. It’s hard work. We want to make it more difficult to fail than easier to succeed.”

Michelle Mccown said she was surprised to see a 50 percent grade on her daughter's online grade log for assignments that haven't been turned in yet because she was out for doctors appointments. Her daughter attends Southern Oaks Middle School.

“It’s not right," she said. "It teaches them to be lazy.”

Mccown is one of many who agrees with former West Gate teacher, Diane Tirado, who complained about the school's apparent “no zero” policy, which is listed on their student and parent handbook as "no zeros- lowest possible grade is 50%"

“I don’t want my kids to be taught like this," Mccown said.

“It’s a fair system that actually rewards what they’ve done and that they’re given other opportunities to be successful at it instead of leaving them behind," Gent said.

There is no overall district policy for trying to avoid giving students a zero for an assignment, but it is considered best practice for grading.

As for Tirado, who was fired on September 14 for an unspecified reason, according to her termination letter, and sent a photo to her students of a goodbye note on her whiteboard, referring to a no zero grading policy, the school district provided this response Tuesday:

"With respect to the private lives of individuals, St. Lucie Public Schools (SLPS) normally does not publicly comment on the details of why an individual was released from duties.  However, in the case of Diane Tirado’s campaign of misinformation, an exception is warranted.

Ms. Tirado was released from her duties as an instructor because her performance was deemed sub-standard and her interactions with students, staff, and parents lacked professionalism and created a toxic culture on the school’s campus.

During her brief time of employment at West Gate, the school fielded numerous student and parent complaints as well as concerns from colleagues. Based on new information shared with school administrators, an investigation of possible physical abuse is underway.

In addition, her refusal to incorporate students’ Individual Education Plan (IEP) accommodations (a federal mandate) into her instructional practices was deemed defiant and put students at risk. Her dismissal was not a result of grading issues."

In an interview, Gent said the physical abuse allegation did not occur prior to Tirado's termination. He said that allegation came in Tuesday, which is after Tirado's story initially aired about theno zerograding policy.

Gent said HR and law enforcement is investigating. WPTV has reached out to law enforcement for more information.

Tirado denies any criminal allegations and said she is looking into suing the school district for defamation.