Edmonton trustee wants 'no-zero' marking policy reviewed

An Edmonton school trustee wants the board to review the 'no-zero' policy used for marking in some schools.

"We don’t let students off the hook and we don’t let them down,' says superintendent

The board may review the controversial policy after a teacher is suspended for opposing it 2:29

An Edmonton school trustee wants the board to review the "no-zero" policy used for marking in some schools.

"I have received inquiries seeking clarity or expressing concern about how EPSB grading and assessment, especially with regard to whether or not a student should receive a zero [or no grade at all] for incomplete work," said Michael Janz in a blog posting Friday.

Lynden Dorval, a physics teacher at Ross Sheppard High School, was suspended two weeks ago for giving students zeros on uncompleted assignments or exams, contrary to school policy.

The thinking behind the policy is that failing to complete assignments is a behavioural issue and marks should reflect ability, not behaviour.

"Valid questions have been raised about how we teach accountability, resiliency and good citizenship to our students," said Janz.

"Today’s graduates are your future doctors, drivers and neighbours," he said. "What skills do you want them to have?

Physics teacher Lynden Dorval was suspended for giving zeros for uncompleted work. (CBC)

"For me, broadly, this issue is about how we teach responsibility and self-discipline, while fostering and nurturing a love of learning."

Janz does not say where he stands on no-zero grading, but said the district's policy must be driven by questions such as:

  • How do we ensure that our assessment practices aren’t inadvertently driving the students who need the most help to drop out?
  • If we truly believe that success for every student is possible, how do we ensure teachers remain focused on bringing out the best from the difficult and struggling students?
  • How do we ensure that our students are proud of their work and that the diplomas we hand out are respected and that our students have a genuine sense of accomplishment?
  • How, can or should we separate assessment of learning from behavioural issues?
  • How do we ensure that students are ready to face the demands of the work world or post-secondary professors?

Janz said he will introduce a motion to review district assessment practices at the board's next meeting, on June 12.

Superintendent defends 'no-zero' policy

Edgar Schmidt, superintendent of the Edmonton Public Schools, released this statement on Friday:

"Some parents, community members and students have asked why Edmonton Public Schools believes giving students a zero is not the right approach.

The reason we assign a certain grade is to give a student feedback on what they have learned.

If a student writes a test and gets all the answers wrong, they are assigned a zero on that test. This tells the teacher the student does not know the material and needs extra support.

The mark is then put in the context of all their other learning that takes place during the year. If, by the end of the year, the student still hasn’t mastered the material, they fail the course. 

Edgar Schmidt is the superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools. (CBC)

However, missed assignments are treated differently.

Our approach to missed assignments is to work with each student to find out the reason they did not turn in an assignment.

Once a teacher finds out the reason, they work with the student to come up with a solution to address the situation.

They agree to a plan to turn in future assignments and the teacher holds the student accountable.

Our ultimate goal is for students to complete high school. To accomplish that goal, we must give students the tools they need to get there.

We can’t write some students off if they have difficulty. If a student is struggling, we need to identify the cause and provide assistance.

We don’t let students off the hook and we don’t let them down, either. We set out clear expectations and then we support them in learning what they need to know.

We give them opportunities to show us what they have learned. And we evaluate them on the work they actually turn in. That’s our approach to assessment.

In order for students to be successful in school and in life, they need the knowledge, skills and attitudes to make a smooth transition into the world of work and post secondary education.

By taking an all or nothing approach to a missed assignment, we are not doing our job as educators to prepare all students, including those who face significant challenges, to take the next step in their educational journey as a lifelong learner."