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Wednesday 6 June 2012

Zero Grade

 How do you feel about issuing "zero" grades on assignments? This is an interesting discussion I have been reading a lot about lately.

Minister of Education in Alberta has said that zero is a last resort only. After an Edmonton teacher was suspended for issuing students zero.

Lynden Dorval, an Edmonton Science teacher was suspended after issuing students a zero grade for assignments not handed in.

The physics teacher with 35 years experience said he continued giving zeros when students failed to hand in assignments, instead of using behaviour codes such as "not completed," which the school requires under its grading and reporting practice.
In Dorval's physics and science classes at Ross Sheppard High School, students who didn't turn in assignments got a printout of their marks showing them how a zero would affect their overall grade. Most times, the strategy spurred students to complete the work, he said.
This got me thinking... In the high school english class I am currently teaching, I plug in an "NHI" (Not handed in) for assignments missing. This is practice continued from the previous teacher as I am in for the last month of school.

Students get a print out of what is missing and an opportunity to hand them in. I believe in giving students an opportunity to make up missed work since some have not handed things in due to absence, illness, and so on, and to be honest, some are just being lazy or avoiding work. Either way, they are given adequate time to catch-up, make up and ensure they have submitted all assignments for a grade that reflects all their work.

But, I am in a temporary contract with one English class and one Student Services block.

I wonder, how a teacher with 4 english classes per semester, over 100 students, may handle a wave of late assignments at the end of a semester while marking end of term exams, essays and projects.

What is the purpose of a deadline? How important is formal grading? How much control do we really have over assessment and grading in high school, particularily Grade 11 and 12 as many students prepare for post-secondary education.

Giving a student a zero teaches them a lesson  talks about alternative motivation and argues against giving a zero to students. It is an interesting read.

What I enjoyed about this post most were the comments. The discussion.

One talked about the fact that, until Universities stopped using grades as criteria for entrance, we can't stop using them in high school.

Another comment talks about class size and how a high school teacher can adequately give the individual attention needed with 4 full classes and over 100 students a semester.

I taught in Middle School where I used a 4 point scale for most assignments. Final grades were converted to a letter grade, but we did not focus on percentages or grades the same way high schools do. I used comments and ongoing assessment and communication to work with students on goal setting and improving.

Now, teaching in high school, it is all about the grade. Students are obsessed!

Not a single day goes by without at least one students asking me what their grade is so far.

Nevermind that somethings are not marked, or entered into the system yet, nevermind that provincial exams and finals or huge parts of their grade is not yet input, they want to know their percentage at that moment. Every moment!


Because the focus has become the grade.

As parents, we focus on the grade as well. I told myself I wouldn't, but when my daughter brings home her report card, I inadvertently look at the grades first.

I really enjoyed the Job Action this year, because there were no report cards, instead, communication, discussion, between teachers and parents on how a student was progressing. Without the letter or percentage to occupy all the attention, the details, the study habits, the OTHER parts of assessment were more important.

Have you ever seen a student with an A but an N work habit grade? What about a C- but a G work habit grade? Which would you rather see?

Far too often the letter grade is given more weight.

I enjoy professional conversation on this topic and others. I am curious what others think and what they use for their teaching practice.

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