Giving Zeros

I am very interested in the debate on giving zeros or not. Wanting to form my own solid opinion, I have read six newspaper articles from the U of R library archives:

1. “Giving zeros a power trip” by Joe Bower in the Edmonton Journal in June 2012

2. “Teacher fired for giving zeros” by Canadian Press in September 2012

3. “Not giving zeros also skews marks” by Rob Found in the Edmonton Journal in June 2012

4. “Educators defend no-zero rule; Public outcry after teacher suspended for giving zeros” by Andrea Sands in the Time-Colonist in June 2012

5. “Why giving children zeros is a “good” idea” by Bob Rodgers in the Airdrie City View in November 2012

6. “Alberta teacher kicked out of class for giving students zeros” by Andrea Sands in the Postmedia News in Jun 2012

After reading these articles, I would have to say I do not believe in giving zeros. As Joe Bower points out in “Giving zeros a power trip,” zeros are used to punish students rather than teach them the lesson. He notes that “the more you use power to control someone, the less real influence you will have on their lives.” People who get zeros are more likely to dropout and kids who are getting zeros need support rather than a critic. Bower states that “assessment is not a spreadsheet – it’s a needed conversation between teacher and student.” If we give students zeros they never get a chance to complete the work and learn the curriculum outcomes.

Three of the articles discuss an incidence where an Edmonton school teacher of 35 years’ service gave zeros to students despite the no-zero public school policy and many warnings from the principal. He was supposed to use behavioral codes but refused because he thought it “is just a way of inflating marks… [and] pushing kids through” to get better statistics (Sands, “Alberta teacher kicked out of class for giving students zeros”). At first view, it seems like he is not wrong but when we delve further into the policy we see that even though zeros are not used students are still held accountable and behavior is still noted. Furthermore, it was not this teachers’ right to change the policy or ignore it.

In the “Not giving zeros also skews marks” article, Rob Found suggests that “the no-zero policy… rewards the inability to manage time effectively, multitask, hit deadlines and develop a work ethic” because two kids could receive the same mark but one student did not do all the work. What this article fails to include is that “the no-zero approach puts the onus on the teacher to do everything possible to ensure students are learning what’s in the curriculum” (Sands, “Educators defend no-zero rule”). Students are still held accountable to do their work but their behavior is rated separately. If students do not do the main assignments in the term they cannot get a credit. Furthermore, teachers work with students to figure out why the homework is not complete. Todd Rogers, a psychologist from U of A, suggests that “a zero indicates the student knows nothing about a topic when they might actually know plenty… the mark of incomplete is more honest” (Sands, “Educators defend no-zero rule”).

“Why giving children zeros is a “good” idea,” by Bob Rogers provides a comical perspective about the flaws of giving students zeros. Bob’s words work against those of the critics who say zeros do not prepare students for the real world. Bob claims that giving zeros is an easy out because kids do not have to do the work and teachers do not have to mark/figure out the problem. Rogers compares getting zeros at school to getting zeros at the doctor’s office. He depicts a story about getting his cholesterol checked. Instead of taking care of his health concerns he skips his doctors appointment. Therefore, without taking his cholesterol test the dr. gives him a zero, meaning he has no cholesterol. However, this is far from true and even with the zero the problems are still present. Then the dr. goes on to average his cholesterol and with the zero score, Rogers cholesterol is low. The overall message is how do you mark someone without any data and just because we give a zero does not mean the problems are going to disappear.

I used to agree with the critics that this policy would not prepare kids for the real world. But learning is more than a grade. I used to think that not giving zeros meant that fifties would become the new zero but I am realizing now that instead of giving grades, we should be giving feedback. That way the learning process is continuous, students get second chances to complete work and the goal is to complete assignments not compete for marks on specific due dates. What this policy boils down to is separating behavior from learning grades. This does not mean that behavior is not accounted for. Students do not have to do the work if they get zeros, but if they are given more time and complete the work at a later date the learning process is not interrupted. I believe that the no-zero policy makes more sense and prepares kids for the real world more than getting a zero and shrugging off assignment responsibilities.

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One thought on “Giving Zeros

  1. Hello Kourtney,
    Thank you for your thoughts on the, still contentious, issue of giving zeros. I was rather surprised that my article had been used in a scholarly blog, but happy that you found it to be of some use! Best of luck with your continued studies.
    Bob Rodgers
    “The Common Guy”

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