Eastern School board still giving cheaters a chance

Peter Jackson
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Just in time for the release of a paper slamming no-zero marking policies, the Eastern School District of Newfoundland and Labrador appears to be standing firm on its own controversial approach.

The board came under fire from parents and teachers last year when a no-zero policy on cheating surfaced. In short, teachers had to give cheaters another chance rather than assigning a zero. In fact, teachers were forced to examine numerous alternatives before assigning any zeroes at all.

The policy elicited loud protest. Both parents and teachers complained that it encouraged laziness and apathy, failed to instill a sense of responsibility and discriminated against the majority of students who honestly completed their work.

This is all blindingly obvious, of course, but it leaves an important question dangling: what on Earth possesses boards and individual schools across Canada to adopt ludicrous no-zero policies?

Finding the source

Michael Zwaagstra tries to answer that in a paper published Monday by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

In “Zero Support for No-zero Polices,” Zwaagstra, a Manitoba teacher, researcher and columnist, looked at the growing controversy across Canada and evaluated the reasons for and against such bans.

He credits the suspension of a physics teacher in Edmonton for truly galvanizing the lobby against no-zero policies.

In May of this year, Lynden Dorval found himself forced out of the classroom after he decided to defy the policy against handing out zeroes.

“Public response to this issue has been overwhelmingly on Dorval’s side,” writes Zwaagstra. “Students rallied to his defence, teachers spoke out in support of his position and newspaper pages were filled with letters attacking the no-zero policy.”

What’s most revealing is Zwaagstra’s probe into the research that supposedly supports bans on zero grades.

In short, there is none.

The “positive” effect of keeping zeroes off the books is touted by only a handful of educational specialists. And these same researchers regularly use each others’ work as source material.

What’s most shocking is that when the circular references are traced back, there is rarely empirical evidence to support any of it.

Zwaagstra found it surprising that no objective analysis has been done, since there would be no shortage of data to evaluate it in the U.S. or Canada.

No change here?

Meanwhile, it appears the Eastern School District is determined not to take a harder line on cheating.

An Aug. 27, 2012 policy document on assessment and evaluation confirms zeroes may be assigned “in the absence of other evidence of learning.”

But that “other evidence” means teachers must jump through various hoops, including endless extensions, consultations and alternative evaluations.

Worse, a student cannot be penalized for a late assignment: “The practice of reducing grades as a punitive response to late assignments is not permitted, as such practice does not adhere to the overall intent of the assessment and evaluation policy.”

Thus, any student is free to hand in assignments on the last day of school with no regard for a teacher’s schedule or time management.

But the board’s provocative policy on cheating appears to be unchanged: “The overall grade

in the course/program remains incomplete until such time that an appropriate assessment is completed.”

Zwaagstra is confident the tide has turned against such regressive approaches to evaluation.

“Public opposition to no-zero policies shows no sign of subsiding,” he says.

Given the intransigence of so-called specialists who endorse this free-ride approach to grading, however, it’s important that parents and teachers remain vigilant.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor.

Email: pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pjackson_NL

Organizations: Eastern School District of Newfoundland and Labrador, Frontier Centre for Public Policy.In

Geographic location: Canada, Manitoba, Edmonton U.S.

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Recent comments

  • mikeryan
    August 31, 2012 - 10:45

    You can get zeroes in university.What about the students who hand every thing in on time ? Should a student handing in his/her work weeks or even months later get the same mark ? They could copy the work from other students.A student should get an incomplete as a grade if he/she does not complete the required work.If a student does not want to study for a test or do an assignment,he/she has to be given more chances.What about work ethic and responsibility for your actions? There is no research to support the banning of zeroes.

  • henry
    August 30, 2012 - 06:39

    The sad thing is, students lose out.When did teachers become social workers and try to solve the students problems.I thought parents did that.Dave you are right in what you said.Wonder if Rich,and Dave ever went to school!!

  • Truth Be Told
    August 29, 2012 - 20:07

    In theory, the policy makes sense; Cheating and passing in late assignments are behaviours that need to be dealt with through consequences that do not reflect the students' knowledge of the curriculum. In reality, the policy does not work because it allows students to manipulate parents , teachers and staff . This is the case because the consequences offered are not harsh enough to deter the behaviour (s) in question in many cases. As well, the policy creates a huge workload issue for teachers. Work hours are clearly determined in the Provincial Collective Agreement. If something is to be done sooner rather than later about this policy, teachers should ask when these extra duties need to be completed. There is not enough time, given the correcting, assessment creation, lesson planning etc. File a grievance. Also parents, please do not cease or desist in your resolve to let officials know that you do not agree with this policy.

  • DWB
    August 29, 2012 - 13:55

    There is a very simple explanation and rationale for not giving zeros to students. If there are no zero's or for that matter failing grades, the average grades of the school and in turn the school district gets raised. Thereby either meeting or exceeding the national average in math, science and literacy. This can be the ONLY reasonable explantion for such a stupid policy.

  • Dave Sullivan
    August 29, 2012 - 09:28

    A grade is used as a measurement tool. Giving a child a zero is telling the child that they know nothing. If a child isn't passing in any work and is absent so much that obtaining work is impossible, then there are greater issues at play. Issues that can't be solved by telling the child that they know nothing.

    • Robert Riche
      August 29, 2012 - 20:23

      respectfully Dave that is not what a zero says, a zero can say, incomplete, didn't bother, could care less, parents were fighting, I forgot about it, and so on and so on ....it rarely ever means the child knows nothing

    • Carl
      August 30, 2012 - 00:42

      Wrong, Dave. Teachers don't mark students. They mark tests and assignments. Giving a zero doesn't mean the student knows nothing. It simply means the work submitted is worth nothing. If a student does not submit work, or submits it long after the rest of the class has moved on to other work, or submits work copied from someone else, then that work is worth nothing and says nothing about the student, so it should get a zero. And if receiving a zero makes a student feel bad about themselves, then the student has an incentive to submit better, more timely and more honest work. That's the whole point.