Schools use ‘Zeroes Aren’t Permitted’ program in attempt to stem student failure

By Frank Juliano, Connecticut Post
Posted April 01, 2012, at 6:31 a.m.

MILFORD, Conn. — Like the biggest banks in the financial crisis, students here have been deemed “too important to fail.”

Since September the city’s middle schools and high schools have been using a national program called “Zeros Aren’t Permitted” which gives students opportunities to retake tests or to do skipped assignments. But some say the program inflates grades and coddles lazy students.

The ZAP model has been used since 2007 in cities such as Bangor, Maine; Grand Rapids, Mich., and Seattle, and in smaller school districts, particularly in the Midwest. A similar program, Hold, uses the letter H on report cards (for hold) rather than incomplete or F, and requires students to make up the work.

“What kid is going to do homework at night when you tell him he can have time to do it during the next schoolday? We get a lot of attitude when we expect assignments completed on time,” said one high school teacher, who asked not to be named.

Assistant Superintendent Michael Cummings said that is a legitimate concern and it will be addressed at a faculty meeting in May to review the ZAP program.

“This has been very helpful to some, but there are kids who are taking advantage of it,” Cummings said.

“Our mandate is to graduate kids in four years, and we’re looking for ways to keep kids from failing themselves. At 14, a kid doesn’t understand how badly a zero can affect him down the road, but because of the way we average out our marking periods they could tank themselves so badly by November that it becomes almost statistically impossible to recover,” he said.

The state Department of Education is in the process of raising education standards — including an increase in the number of credits required for high school graduation — but does not require programs such as ZAP.

:Curriculum decisions are, by and large, made at the local board level,” department spokesman Mark Linabury said.

Milford is just one of a few school systems that has adopted the program. The student handbooks for Trumbull, Fairfield Ludlowe, Stratford, Ansonia and Shelton high schools all state that zeros will be given for work that is not completed.

The student handbook for Ansonia High, on the school’s website, also states that homework is to be completed outside of class. “Although students may have class time or study periods during which they may work on homework assignments, it is expected that they will complete any remaining work at home.”

In Milford, a special ZAP study hall is held daily at both high schools and in the middle schools.

“Regular study halls are nice, you can eat and listen to music, but we take them out of that and say, ‘You are going to finish the work,’” said Ralph Barbiero, assistant principal at Jonathan Law High. “We go after them for big-ticket items like makeup tests or labs. We don’t chase them down for a few math problems.”

On one recent day, four seniors were in the ZAP study hall at Law. Kevin Langan, a pitcher on the Lawmen baseball team, spent third period for 20 schooldays getting his physics grade up.

“I missed one assignment and then everything backed up on me. I got a string of zeros, but my grades have improved 30 or 40 points since I’ve been in here. I wouldn’t be playing baseball now if it wasn’t for this,” said Langan.

Moaz Alnahlawi said that he also had a 20-day stint in the ZAP study hall to make up some math work. While there, he got help from a fellow student.

Barbiero said students often help each other. The program also has a certified teacher in the room and a tutor.

“We’ve devoted resources to this because helping kids catch up helps everybody down the road. If you’re missing work in Spanish 1, Spanish 3 isn’t going to be easy. It takes awhile to get everyone to buy into what we’re doing,” he said.

(c)2012 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.)

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