Last October, the province’s Eastern School District received pushback from teachers over a new policy that prohibited them from giving zeroes to students who cheat or fail to complete an assignment.
At the time, the board said its approach was in line with other school boards across the country.
Policies actually vary from district to district, but there does indeed seem to be a trend towards this kid-glove treatment. Some Ontario schools have had similar policies in place for years.
When the policy surfaced here, the board clarified its rules, insisting there is no outright ban on giving zeroes. But the hoops teachers must jump through first — consulting parents, reassigning tests — are intimidating enough that most teachers just avoid the grief.
Now, it appears teachers might also need to watch their backs.
In Alberta last month, physics teacher Lyndon Dorvel was suspended from his job for violating his school’s “no-zero” policy. He’d been giving zeroes for incomplete assignments for 15 years when the new rule came into effect.
Dorvel told CBC News he couldn't in good conscience comply with the rule.
"I just didn't have a choice," he said. "I just couldn't not do it. I tried to talk myself out of it many times, but it was just something so important to me, I just had to go through with it."
Dorvel is appealing his suspension, and has become a bit of a folk hero among many students and parents.
Zero tolerance for zeroes is not new.
The National Post’s Marni Soupcoff points to a 1999 school directive in Ontario as one culprit. That directive was based on a philosophy that student performance and student behaviour should be treated separately. In other words, a student’s decision not to hand in a paper does not mean they haven’t learned the material.
“Where that leaves teachers is with little ability to teach important real-world concepts like the importance of meeting deadlines, working efficiently and managing stress while completing multiple tasks,” writes Soupcoff. “Or, to put it bluntly, the importance of actually putting in effort and doing a good job.”
In fact, so many Ontario educators adopted an extreme interpretation of those guidelines that the province was compelled two years ago to assure teachers they were allowed to give zero credit for zero work.
Clearly, there’s something wrong here.
Because, contrary to the muddled thinking of these modern education experts, student behaviour and performance are really inextricable sides of the same coin.
And that’s especially true for those in the
procrastination-prone teen years.
And for students who actually do their work, no-zero policies are intrinsically discriminatory.
There should be zero tolerance for it.