Zero sum game?

This morning the story of an Alberta teacher who rejects a “no zero” assessment policy caught my attention. I suspect there might be more to the story than meets the eye, but the policy in question isn’t, from my ancillary connection to hundreds of K-12 teachers (as their teacher).

I find “no zero” policies problematic, particularly after the early primary years. In addition to subject matter understanding, part of summative assessment in K-12 schooling serves to prepare citizens. And part of citizenship–“being a grown up” as Mom used to hammer into us–is to meet intellectual, interpersonal and (eventually) professional standards. Submitting work to a certain standard is important: submitting something should be an obvious requirement for any possibility of a passing grade.

As children develop, understanding the importance of making an effort, doing one’s best, and completing tasks in an acceptable timeframe all gain greater prominence. We are already getting students here at UBC who bristle at being held to due dates for assignments, for following explicit submission instructions, and for having to work within clear and structured participation requirements for learning activities.  Thankfully I’ve not yet encountered this ethos among colleagues. I certainly wouldn’t countenance it amongst my own team.

Or am I too old skool, yo?  Thoughts?

About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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1 Response to Zero sum game?

  1. Sian Osborne says:

    It is such a difficult question. On the face of things, I agree with you whole-heartedly. If I were to go to work, in any situation with zero productivity, I would expect to be fired. I talk to my students from the get-go that their “job” is school and that this is what they do until they have something to offer in the way of productivity that can earn them a living.

    Yet, we have a mandate to find ways to affirm what a student CAN do rather than nail them for what they CAN’T do. From what I understand this was a physics instructor and therefore an academic course which assumes some level of ability on the part of the student. We are, as teachers, bound to find ways that students can demonstrate their learning…. which may not be by traditional methods or in traditional time frames! I can accept this if there is communication between the two parties (student/teacher) as to what the (alternative) guidelines are for success.

    For some students who have ability, but who haven’t handed in assignments, I would assign an “I”, which would indicate that I feel the student has ability and that they have the opportunity to make up missed work before a “zero” or fail is assigned. (That is mandated procedure, as well). One would hope that the student would “wise up” get their act together and not let that happen again! Are we too soft? I don’t know.

    For students who will never get the work done no matter if they are given a month of Sundays, because they don’t have the ability, I would probably assign a C- just because why prolong the agony? These would be students that I would not expect to be pursuing an academic career in physics. But that would assume that I had some work to assess…. or annecdotal comments based on observations. Now THAT solution would probably be frowned upon by the powers that be…. I wonder.

    Ultimately, I think you are right…. there is no doubt more to the story than meets the eye….

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