Opponents of no-zero marking fail to see the benefits

By Jamie Mason — The Carillon (CUP)

REGINA (CUP) – For anyone unclear of the concept, the no-zero policy is a recent trend in schools that attempts to hold students accountable for their work and set the real criteria for grading. This has brought to light the education system’s double standards for grading criteria.

Some teachers have raised complaints about the no-zero policy even for late work, but what does the zero represent, really? Students are being penalized on their behaviour instead of ability. Students don’t receive higher marks for handing in their assignment earlier, so why should they lose marks for handing it in late?

Also, what are those numbers supposed to represent? According to the policy, students who refuse to either do the work or hand in enough to be evaluated will be marked as “unable to evaluate.” This sets the real criteria for students’ assignments as what they have written, rather than when they handed it in.

Lynden Dorval, an Edmonton high school teacher, was recently “suspended indefinitely” for giving out zeroes after the policy was adopted.

“To me, this is just not working,” Dorval told the Edmonton Journal “It’s a way of pushing kids through and making the stats look good, but at what cost?”

Dorval apparently neglected to read the schools’ Assessment, Grading, and Reporting Practice. Students with incomplete or missing assignments are still held accountable. However, the method of evaluation has changed.

The no-zero policy is commonly accompanied by another policy allowing students to hand in work long after it is due with no penalties on their grade. Instituted instead is a dual grading system. Students will be graded on the content of their assignment, as well as their behaviour. According to the Ross Sheppard School Assessment, Grading, and Reporting Practice, “[if] an assignment [is] not completed on time, or an exam missed due to illness, the teacher will arrange an alternate time when the student can complete the assignment. A behaviour code will be entered in the mark book until the assignment is completed.”

These behavioural codes range from “not handed-in” (NHI) to “chose not to attempt” (CNA) or even skip.

This method is far more practical for a variety of reasons, one being that employers want to know how well a student can work and meet deadlines, not necessarily how well they can write an essay. If students were graded using two report cards, one for behaviour and one for academic achievement, they would be held accountable for their behaviour without penalizing their ability. The behavioural report card would allow employers an actual understanding of the potential employee’s work ethics and conduct.

Many people against the policy argue that it doesn’t set students up for the real world or hold them accountable, but these policies are attempting to do something much more than that: they are trying to fix a broken system.