A Newfoundland and Labrador school board's decision to eliminate automatic failure for cheating has been miscast as being lenient on students who get caught, an education consultant says.

The Eastern School District, the largest school board in the province, recently ordered teachers to no longer submit a zero when cheating has been identified.

Instead, no mark is entered and a second test is arranged, and officials can still proceed with disciplinary measures like suspensions.

"It's not being easier on students — it's actually holding them to a higher standard," Damian Cooper, an Ontario-based education consultant, told CBC News Tuesday from Parry Sound, Ont.

Cooper said students will still face discipline, and that the previous system did not address whether the student actually learned what was in the curriculum. 

"It's not too coddling. We're not saying 'no consequences,' " said Cooper, adding that schools need to adapt to how different students learn.

"Some students take longer to achieve certain competencies than others," Cooper said. 

"The equivalent would be the drivers' test. Some people pass it the first time they take it, some people take three, four, five times to be successful on that test," he said.

"In the old model, if you didn't pass it the first time, too bad. You were sort of tossed on to the heap — you were one of the non-achievers or low achievers."

Contrary to public exams

The policy is contrary to Newfoundland and Labrador government policy for public exams, which are administered to graduating high school students. For public exams, a student caught cheating not only gets an automatic zero, but is also disqualified from writing other exams.


Retired teacher Bill Brophy: 'We have to allow our children the opportunity to fail.' ((CBC))

Some educators say the policy, which came into effect earlier this month, does not teach an important life lesson.

"We have to allow our children the opportunity to fail," said Bill Brophy, a retired teacher who worked in Conception Bay South outside St. John's.

"It strikes me that this policy is against that, that everybody should pass. That doesn't strike me as healthy."

'Down a very dark, dark alley'

Keith Coombs, a retired principal in St. John's and a former city councillor, said the new policy is fraught with problems.

"Where we are leading this generation, in terms of this aspect of cheating, I think is down a very dark, dark alley, and I think we [have] to be very careful," Coombs, a 30-year veteran of the classroom, told CBC News.

"While I don't agree with every time a student is caught cheating to give zero, I don't think you should remove that as one of the possibilities."

Ford Rice, the director of education for the Eastern School District, said the changes are consistent with what other boards around Canada are already doing.

"It does happen, yes, it does. But when it does, it needs to be dealt with seriously, and in this case, cheating will still be dealt with seriously," Rice said in an interview.

"However, we will deal with the behaviour separately from the student's assessment of the outcomes." [MORE: Read the new regulations here.]

The Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association dislikes the new policy, and says it is not tough enough on students who cheat.