I need help determining what is fair and appropriate discipline by a teacher. My sixth-grade son came home yesterday and was upset. During a science test he realized his numbers and answers were out of alignment. In his panic, he said aloud, "Oh no, I messed this up!" The teacher took his test and gave him a zero for talking during the test. I fully understand the need for such a rule but a ZERO? I want my children to respect their teachers, but when the punishment so far exceeds the crime, I'm baffled as to how to respond.
Don't respond. Let it go. If the class rule is talking during a test will result in a zero for the talker, then your son suffered the consequences of breaking a rule even though it was probably an accident. Imagine how disruptive it would be for the test takers if many of their classmates voiced their dismay whenever they had a problem on a test. In this case, you need to be more supportive of the teacher's action even though it was a very steep penalty.
Your son has learned a lesson. He is not likely to talk during a test again no matter what the situation is. More importantly, he has also learned that if he breaks a test rule, there will be a penalty. It is a good lesson to learn before grades truly become important.
Few people enjoy tests, and many, like your son, panic when anything goes wrong during a test. You can teach your son techniques to avoid alignment problems in the future. Suggest that he place the test over the answer sheet so the space for the next answer is always at the top of the sheet. Also, tell him to check that his answers are aligned properly every ten questions. Some students keep their answers properly aligned with the questions by simply answering every question and never leaving a blank space. They should circle a question when they are unsure of the answer so that they can go back and change their answer if they have time.