Friday, June 15, 2012

No Zero Policy: What do you think?

A colleague showed me this story in the national news, just the other day. A teacher at a school in Alberta, Canada is being suspended for giving zeros for unsubmitted work, which is against the school's policy. I'm not here to defend either side. The article got me thinking, though. What is the purpose of an assessment? Is that purpose truly served if a zero is entered, when an assignment has not been submitted?

What does one do, though, when students are given ample opportunities to do, re-do and correct assignments and projects and yet still fail to submit them? I know that entering a zero for an unsubmitted assignment gives no useful assessment data, but I am curious what other schools do that have a "no zero policy". What about those students who simply don't "do"? Are partially completed, poorly done assignments better than none at all?

Here's the link to the article: Teacher Suspended for Giving Zeros.

teacher suspended for giving zeros, global teacher connect
Calgary Teacher Suspended
This teacher is not the first, nor will he be the last to give zeros for assignments that simply weren't passed in. When every opportunity has been given to complete work, is the zero eventually warranted? How long should a teacher chase a student for work? Why is it the teacher's responsibility to "chase" students for work at all? What sort of a message and precedent does this set for students? How well does it prepare them for the real world of work? How long would your boss chase you to complete a lesson plan? A sub plan? Submit report cards? There would come a point when you'd simply run out of time and you'd have to face the consequence. How well are we preparing our students for those consequences?

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  1. Karen GreenbergJune 15, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    I personally think the idea of a no zero policy gives kids an "out," and they know it. I had a student with 26 missing assignments three weeks before the end of the school year. Administration told me I have to allow him to go back and turn in all missing assignments for the semester- yep, all 26 of them. I don't think that was fair to the students who turned them in on time. In life, if you don't turn in something that is due you have consequences. I think children should learn that in school as well.

    1. I agree with you, Karen. What happens when the rest of the class finds out that this particular student did not hand in anything throughout the term, but was allowed to submit everything at the last minute with no repercussions? Wouldn't a lot of the students then take advantage of this and not submit their own assignments by the assigned date? What are we teaching kids if we allow them to act in this manner?

    2. Karen GreenbergJune 17, 2012 at 8:36 AM

      Unfortunately that did happen. I started having more and more missing and late assignments. Students and parents expected there to be no consequences. I wound up throwing content out the window for the last three weeks of school and working on missing assignments. Unfortunately a lot of this time was also spent reteaching, because the students could not remember what they needed in order to do the work. It was really frustrating in many ways, and I feel the students were robbed of that last three weeks of material.

  • I struggle with this concept, because on one hand the zeros can really change your grade and if the students start working really hard, then it can make it hard for students to get back on their feet.

    However, part of teaching is preparing students to be responsible citizens. Yes, I want my students to be successful, but I also want to teach them about real life. As a teacher, if I don't turn in my lesson plans for 26 weeks, I get fired.

    I also compare turning in assignments to paying bills. If you miss one electric bill, they may not turn your lights on, but forget again, and you're without power. Shouldn't we start teaching kids about responsibility when the stakes aren't so high?

    By the way - great topic Krystal! Thanks for bringing it up for discussion on the "global" front.

    Heidi Raki
    Raki's Rad Resources

  • Thanks so much for your comments ladies. I don't know why, but this article just struck me. I really do think, for me, it comes down to, "What are we actually teaching our students?"

    There ARE consequences for decisions that we make, for the world of work and yes Heidi, paying bills! Just life in general!

    With bills, there is a "pay by" date. You don't get to pay the bill whenever you feel like it, or even when you "have the money". It's to be paid by said date, or you lose your power, get your wages garnished when it goes to the collections agency...etc...The bottom line...there are consequences in real life.

    We need to make sure that if we have a "no zero policy" that there are still some sort of consequences along the way, and/or at the end of the year. Are these students still on sports teams, participating in the "fun stuff" that students do? If so, why? They're not acting like students, and so they shouldn't get the perks without the work.
    Can you imagine chasing a student for 26 unsubmitted assignments? So Karen (or anyone else with this policy) once students get to the end and still haven't passed in the assignments or done make-up work, then what? Then do the zeros get put in and the student fails? Or does the student get an incomplete and have to repeat the course (high school)? What's the eventual consequence?


    1. Karen GreenbergJune 17, 2012 at 5:38 AM

      In my case I was teaching 6th grade students. I had another who was missing a total of 31 assignments at the same point in the semester. Both boys continued to participate in school clubs and activities, even through my LOUD protests.

      One boy got down to business at the end of the semester and turned in about 20 assignments of the 26 he was missing. His grade went from an F to a B virtually over night. The other boy, however, turned in ONE! Because he was passing all his other classes (with Ds), administration did not want him to fail my class and asked me to excuse as many of the assignments as I needed to in order to get the grade to passing. Hmmmm..... what did each of those boys learn?

      I guess the eventual consequence is that the lack of knowledge will catch up with boy #2 and he won't be able to slide by. Whether this be in high school or even not until college, I won't know. I would rather he learned in elementary school where the stakes aren't quite so high, though. This is a "college prep, high-expectation school", too. I won't be returning to teach there next year.

    2. Oh Karen, that's unfortunate. What happens at my school, is that they can pass basically anything in until the last day. We fill in the marks that we have. We can put zeros in for the other marks and if they don't meet the promotion policy they get "placed" in to the next grade, rather than promoted. They are "flagged" so to speak to the next year's teacher as someone who has not met the expectations and are given/continued to be given adaptations to their program. You can't "fail" a grade here, until grade 10, where we have a "credit system" and if you don't pass the class, you don't move on to the next one until you do pass. I think we're doing a dis-service - especially to our Gr 7,8,9 kids because they keep moving on, even when they haven't learned the material and met the expectations. Then BOOM. Grade 10 - if you don't do what you need to do - too bad. You can fail...just like real life.


    3. Karen GreenbergJune 17, 2012 at 7:16 AM

      That is definitely a disservice to the kids. I'm not sure why we think that children are suddenly going to be able to understand what is expected of them one day. This is something I think about with children turning 18 and becoming adults, too. We don't teach them what they need to know, then we expect them to understand how to behave as young adults.

  • This issue has been a struggle at my school. We follow the Professional Learning Community in our schools, which highly believes in the no zero policy. Our school has done a lot to help students make up their assignments, such as creating a system that we put all missing assignments on and it emails the parents, specific study halls targeted to help students missing excessive amount of students. But here is my question, are we teaching our students responsibility? I am all for giving them chances to show mastery of a concept, but when I have to chase them down to complete their assignments or call parents numerous times are we putting all the responsibility on ourselves?

    1. Karen GreenbergJune 18, 2012 at 7:50 AM

      I definitely don't think that is teaching responsibility. I also found that students with excessive missing assignments don't really care and usually don't show up for the extra sessions to work on the projects. In my experience, that was the case, anyway. No matter how many times I called home I would be assured the work would be done, and it would not be followed up on. I offered after school tutoring twice a week, and it was supposed to be mandatory to attend if students had missing work. Administration never supported this, and the parents made one excuse after another. Eventually students have to learn to care on their own. An employer isn't going to chase a report for too long before giving up and moving on to someone who will do the work as expected.


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