Learn or I will hurt you.

That's the message teachers send to students when giving them a zero on an assignment or test, according to Ross Kasun, superintendent of the Freehold Township School District.

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Meanwhile, the student avoids any accountability and it's just on to the next lesson.

So who benefits?

In Kasun's district, zeroes do not exist. The lowest grade a student can receive for bombing a test, or failing to hand in an essay, is a 50. And even then the student can get another chance to earn a grade that truly reflects what they've learned.

"Our attitude and belief is we're here to build kids up, not to tear them down," Kasun told New Jersey 101.5. "The whole goal of school is learning."

On a 100-point scale, Kasun added, a zero is mathematically inaccurate and "buries a student" in a hole they may not be able to escape.

"If a kid gets a zero on a test, we're going to have them redo the test, learn the material," he said. "If students just don't do an assignment, we give them the time, whether it be an extension or after school or during lunch or before school."

Freehold Township is on a growing list of New Jersey districts with no-zero policies in place.

"What's really important is how it's implemented — educating parents, students and certainly staff on why these changes are necessary and having a dialogue about that," said Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

According to Wright, who does not believe a zero is an appropriate grade for a no-show assignment or failed test, the true purpose of grading is a conversation worth having by districts.

"If it stands for an evaluation of the knowledge and skills of the student, then we may have to think of another way to handle what we might determine are behavior issues — not handing in assignments on time, etcetera," she said. "Students have a variety of reasons why work doesn't get done."

Wright likened the situation to a driver's license test. Individuals who fail to show up for their assigned time, or hit a few cones while parallel parking, aren't banned from driving for good. Some motorists on the road today may have tested several times before earning a license.

Upon introducing the policy in 2013, Kasun admits there was some pushback. There was the fear that students would be more likely to skip out on assignments or studying if they knew zero wasn't an option.

"We have found that to be the furthest from the truth," Kasun said. "I think for some of those kids that got zeroes sometimes ... they realize now that early in the marking period, they're not sunk."

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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