9 On Your Side Investigation
Internal emails shed light on Pueblo High's now-scrapped 'no zeroes' grading policy
Policy would give 50 points to assignments in which students cheated, plagiarized
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – It’s a plan that would have given at least 50 points to any assignment – whether it’s correct, complete or even honest. But since word of that now-scrapped plan got out, 9 On Your Side has been trying to discover what in the world Pueblo High administrators were thinking.
And recent internal emails shed light on the answer.
The background: On Friday, July 27, Principal Vivi Watt sent a memo that stated: “All Pueblo teachers will be required to use this common scale … We will not be using zeros for any purpose.” Furthermore, a student will get 50 points on an assignment, even after plagiarism and cheating, and work with is given a D or F is granted a do-over.
Two days later, on July 29, she emails a Tucson Sentinel’s Dylan Smith, and tells him he’s “jumping the gun here” when he questioned her about the change. She continued, “We have not implemented a new grading scale at Pueblo just yet” – adding that the school will be following TUSD’s current 100-point scale policy.
Not only does that contradict the July 27 memo, but also an email she sent later to school officials that same Sunday: “A number of my teachers are extremely upset, their reactions to some of the big changes we are implementing.”
Abel Morado, TUSD’s Assistant Superintendent, said that as soon as he learned of the policy, he worked with Watt to stop it from going forward before the first day of school: “When we began to work with Principal Watt, we began to make corrections. What she was doing was inconsistent with what we’re doing as a district.”
Morado said Watt meant well, in that she was trying to "prevent students from bottoming out in such a way that they could not recover academically."
Also notable in Watt’s emails is a concern about who leaked info to the media. She not only asked Smith about who relayed the info to him, but asked a school official: “I know now I have a teacher who is going to the press instead of me with concerns. Any suggestions on how to handle this?”
Morado told 9 On Your Side that Watt did not intend on any punitive measure: “I think one of the frustrations Ms. Watt had was she was trying to work internally within her faculty and the concerns that people would’ve gone to the press without first going to her.”
Although word of the policy has been met with outrage from some in the community, there is a school of thought among a subset of educators that the traditional grading scale is counterproductive to student learning.
Flowing Wells Superintendent Dr. Nicholas Clement is not connected to this story. While his schools do not follow the “no zeroes” policy, he said the intent may be to help struggling students.
“You want an A to be an A, but you also don’t want students to drop their arms and say, ‘Well, I’m so deep in the hole and my grading that I can’t get out of that,’” he explained. However, he added that it may not be fair for a student to try hard and get 49 points, while a cheater is automatically granted 50 points.
Some educators believe zeroes allow students to become quitters and this controversial policy of partial credit is more fair, with each grade worth 10 percent of the interval, including Fs. (Under this policy, Fs are awarded 50-59 points, instead of 0-59 points.)
This isn’t the only time TUSD has come under scrutiny. A psychologist told KGUN9 News that the district fired her because she was calling attention to the mistreatment of special needs kids. And Board Member Dr. Mark Stegeman said in an interview that he was concerned about the “culture of retaliation” at Pueblo, adding “we really have to change that culture.”
9 On Your Side asked Morado what the district is doing to protect potential whistleblowers.
“We do not want a culture of retaliation. That is not something that we tolerate. If people want to come forward and express concerns about issues, then that is fair,” Morado responded. “We're going to be looking at that objectively.”
Morado said TUSD is exploring other alternatives to helping struggling students, including collaborating with teachers to work on possible solutions such tutoring and better communication with parents.