You are hereNew guidelines deal with zeros for late assignments
New guidelines deal with zeros for late assignments
New guidelines from the Ministry of Education are helping educators zero in a controversial issue in high school classrooms when it comes to grading late and missed assignments.
A document called Growing Success, Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario's Schools sets guidelines that permit teachers to issue zeros for missed or late assignments. It also mandates that school boards establish their own policies which adhere to the guidelines.
While spokesperson for the Ministry of Education Patricia MacNeil stated that giving zeros has always been an option for teachers, the document states there have been "strong and often divergent opinions on the issue of how to deal with late and missed assignments." It points out that many stakeholders believe zeros should be assigned when a student fails to submit an assignment, although experts in the field often discourage it, saying it doesn't help students succeed in the long run.
"This is a very controversial issue and it's not something that is easily resolved," said Louis Volante, assistant professor, faculty of education at Brock University. Volante is not only the university's assessment and evaluation expert, but he participated on the ministry's faculty advisory committee for the document.
The fact that giving a zero is the last of several strategies listed speaks volumes, he said.
"It's saying that these are the strategies to use, then once you exercise them all, then teachers can give a zero."
Thirteen strategies precede the option of deducting marks for late assignments, up to and including the full value of the assignment. Measures include teacher-student conferences, requiring the student to work with a school team to complete the assignment, and providing alternative assignments or tests when a teacher feels its appropriate.
"I think the ministry is trying to balance without being to prescriptive because every class is unique" he said.
The guidelines are a step in the right direction, said Daniel Peat, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation District 2 Niagara.
"It's important because everyone has to adhere to policy. It's always been in a state of flux and people always wondered where they stood," he said.
He said he is also pleased that the ministry's new guidelines emphasize teacher judgement.
But, for Peat, the issue isn't just about whether or not to give zeros.
"A concern often brought to me that it's too easy for students to get a credit. Some students are playing the system," he said.
"It doesn't take long for a Grade 9 to realize that if they didn't engage, or go to a class they didn't like, and they could still get their credit."
Warren Hoshizaki, director of education for the District School Board of Niagara, underlined the fact that the board's mission is to help students become successful.
"If students try to take advantage of the system, it will catch up with them," he said.
"I don't want to compromise kids who need the support because some kids may play the system."
While the DSBN is currently working on establishing its own policy, Hoshizaki said he doesn't believe it will have a major impact, since zeros are already being given as a last resort.
"We're not going to start saying, 'let's give out a bunch of zeros,'" he said.
However, Hoshizaki said the ministry's document includes valuable strategies to help teachers deal with late and missed assignments.
"They're going to expand the board's options when it comes to supporting students," he said.
At Niagara Catholic District School Board, zeros have also been given as a last resort. Director of education John Crocco said the Growing Success document is in line with the school board's guidelines.
"This is an excellent document. We will continue to focus on discussions of consistency, evaluation of student achievement and providing every opportunity for students to demonstrate learning," he said.
"The key is a strong emphasis on consistency from school to school."
Crocco said Niagara Catholic is working on developing more definitive and precise board-wide strategies to address late assignments. He also praised ministry's the multi-layered approach for dealing with late assignments.
"We don't want to judge students on one thing, but look at multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning," he said
Crocco said it's vital for students and parents recognize the consequences of failing to complete assignments.
"But we don't want negative consequences to be the focus," he said.
"In the end, it's about how to improve student learning."
Niagara Catholic's new guidelines are expected to be completed by June 2011.