The Ongoing Zero Debate

This post was first posted and commented on, on June 2nd, 2012 here:

A reply post was also written here:


Original Post:

This debate makes me angry. It makes me hopping mad, red in the face and ready to scream!!!! The lack of communication or miscommunication around these no-zero policies is atrocious. If the policy cannot be appropriately communicated to educators, how are we supposed to communicate it and stand behind it when working to support students and parents in understanding? I believe it comes down to ineffective adult learning models and communication in our education system. We need to do better.

The debate most recently bringing this to the forefront of my mind is the teacher in Alberta who the media states has been suspended for giving zeros (the school board states this was not the case). One article written about the issue can be found here.

What really gets me going is the misconception that we should be marking “work”. As a teacher, I should not be marking “work”. I should be assigning marks that reflect the students ability to demonstrate certain skills. I am not marking how the student did on “unit 1 test”, I should be marking how well the student can demonstrate “solving linear systems”.

If I am marking “work”, then giving anything other than a 0 for an assignment not handed in does not make sense. But, any good policy states that we are marking skills or expectations. I should no longer have a markbook divided up into “unit 1 test”, “unit 2 test”, “fractions project”, “unit 3 test”. If I do, how on earth do I know what skills the student has mastered and what they haven’t? How do I provide targeted support as needed when all I know is that they struggled on the whole assignment or test?

As a teacher I need to begin tracking actual skills. My markbook should include a list of skills that need to be demonstrated. Then, as per our much griped-about assessment policy,Growing Success, I need to provide multiple times to demonstrate each skill. If I provide more than one time for students to show me how they can “solve linear systems” (e.g., multiple activities and a test) and then the student does not submit the third activity I assigned, it no longer makes sense to give them a zero on the concept “solving linear systems”. If I’ve seen twice already that the student can solve these systems, how can I assign a mark of 0 for that skill just because they missed one assignment? I cannot.

We need to shift away from the belief that the marks we assign are a reflection of work and work ethics. They are not. The marks are simply a reflection of how well they can demonstrate skills. Nothing more, nothing less. The learning skill marks on a report card are where we comment on these things. And thats a whole other story… why are the marks more important than the learning skills? Why are the learning skills less prominent on a report card? Will Richardson lead a good discussion on his blog about the importance of learning skills vs. academic skills.

Dan Meyer shows how he does assessment in his math class in this video. It fits within this “new” mindset of assessment. His weekly testing model doesn’t have to occur in every class, but he shows how his markbook works really well within this “new” mindset.