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Question

Are you at all concerned when the philosophy you promote is misunderstood and poorly
implemented--often in a draconian way? I am afraid that the Edmonton Fiasco will be a huge
set-back for all teachers who care for their students and strive to do what they believe is best
for them.

2012-06-08
bailey Green
 

The
Grade
Doctor
says:

I agree with you that the 'Edmonton fiasco' will create problems but I am confident that the
very strong and caring Alberta Assessment Consortium will be able to repair a lot of the
damage. I am really concerned that those who support zeros misrepresent those who
support a no zeros policy by suggesting that we do not want students to hand work in and
on time or earn their grades and that no zeros means no fail. I was also disappointed that
the mathematical argument that is based on what students learn in grade 5 failed to see
the light of day or be acknowledged.

 

bailey Green's
Comment

2012-07-05

Education in Alberta is strongly influenced by political will. The consortium represents the
experts, which many Albertans love to hate. A review of the whole assessment policy is
scheduled for the fall by epsb. The public holds some final power in this matter.
Reporters are standing by. I fear that the baby will go out with the bathwater. Do you
remember that I tried to warn you that this was coming in my first questions to you? "Zero
as a placeholder" is a small concession when it comes assessing for learning.
As it is, students are losing out. Excellent teachers are leaving the profession. When these
phisolophies are forced on teachers at the expense of their autonomy and respect for their
professional judgement, there is a price to pay.


The Grade Doctor's
Comment

2012-07-05

As I indicated in my last response zero as a placeholder is not a small concession - if the zero ends up in the grade book it is mathematically and ethically wrong. There is lots of room for autonomy and professional judgment in assessment and grading but it must occur within the boundaries set by policy/procedures. Grading must be a shared practice, not an individual practice so that there is some hope that grades will be accurate, CONSISTENT, meaningful, and supportive of learning.


bailey Green's
Comment

2012-07-06

I will not be surprised if Edmonton goes the way of Texas where with the passage of Senate
Bill 2033, the state decided that school districts may not interfere with a teacher who wants
to give a student a zero for lack of effort or poor performance. Opponents of the No Zero
Policy hold some powerful cards in this game. The most successful schools in Edmonton
do not have a "No Zero Policy"--actually several have that soft zero policy. Should we get a
mandatory "zeros must be given for work and assessments not done" will you encourage
"disobedience for conviction" by teachers who believe strongly in the "No Zero Policy"?


The Grade Doctor's
Comment

2012-07-06

I hope you are wrong but whatever decision is made teachers must follow policy as the ATA noted in a strongly worded statement on their website during the Dorval 'hero' story. I note that you chose not to reply to any of the points I made so I assume you agree with me!!!


bailey Green's
Comment

2012-07-06

"I note that you chose not to reply to any of the points I made so I assume you agree with
me!!!"
bicycle
I find it interesting that you use the "chose not to" phrase. The CNA code is a bone of
contention with many teachers. You only know that I haven't replied; you have no idea why
:-) Unless students have shared with the teachers, they also have no idea why a student
didn't hand work in.

As for my reasons, I might have OCD and couldn't get near the computer. I might be DID
and the personality who writes was not let out. I might have had company. I might not
have had WIFI. Someone might have died. Actually 3 of these are true. I'm just making a
point.

I am a little perplexed at how this site works. Do you answer questions in order? What
date appears? I'm not sure how I missed some of your answers if they have been there for
a while.

The issues at hand are complicated. I do not just agree or disagree with anyone. Serious
thought is required. Sometimes there is a great gap between a philosophy and how it
looks in practice. Sometimes there are many issues and some are far more important than
others.

We definitely disagree on civil disobedience and similar disobedience for matters of
conscience. I can't even imagine how you can say giving zeros is a matter of ethics and
then not encourage teachers to disobey if that is what it takes to make what you very much
believe is the right thing happen. I have huge respect for someone who will take personal
risk by disobeying out of conviction. Civil disobedience and similar strategies are a
powerful tool. I love that Dorval has set this example. He had no idea that his statement
would be so powerful and effective. Students need to learn to stand up when they care.
Scary things are happening in the world and especially in Alberta. In my opinion, if
students learn to put personal gain on the line for a cause they believe in, that is more
important than anything else they have learned. Dorval has taught an important lesson on
helplessness and hopelessness. He had no idea that he would become a folk hero :-)


The Grade Doctor's
Comment

2012-07-07

Bailey,
I said "chose not to" because you did respond and ignored my arguments so none of your reasons seem valid.
I usually answer in order but when I am busy I sometimes answer "easy" questions and leave those needing longer answers till I have time. I have been busy for the last two weeks because I suffered a hard drive crash, had forgotten to back-up, and have been trying to recover for two "lost' months.
I agree with you that civil disobedience is a powerful tool and I applaud those who are willing to use it but the way to oppose policies you disagree with is to work in the system to get policies changed. Would you support someone who opposed policies against corporal punishment. I think it is sad if Dorval has become a folk hero because he was wrong to be subordinate and break policy and he is wrong on the policy. Bailey, even if we disagree on every other aspect of the zeros issue, as someone who understands math you have to acknowledge that it is mathematically wrong to use zeros in the grading scale in use in Alberta.


bailey Green's
Comment

2012-07-08

Ken, I'm sorry to hear about your computer troubles. I can commiserate. My computer
hates me :-) I too, answer easy questions first or ask more questions while I'm thinking. I
pass on some information that I consider relevant.

Dorval had good reason to believe that assessment was the teacher's domain.
That is true according to ATA documents. Also it had been in the teacher's domain during
the 35 years he's been teaching. The strong statement you mention only appeared in the
middle of June, if we are talking about the same one. Even it states that while the ATA
believes that assessment is in the teacher's domain, legally it is the principal who has final
authority. For most teachers that I know (many) the fact that a principal has total control
over marks never came up before. Obviously that needs to change, especially since a
principal has a vested interest in showing good results. Check into the mark inflation
situation at 2 Calgary private schools in the news recently.
http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/Alberta+education+test+scores+reveal+grade+inflat
ion/6488246/story.html

This issue at Shep is really about the power of a principal. Again, this has not come up in
the past several decades because the principals worked with the staff; they shared
information and staff were involved in decision making. Now there are secrets, fear of
losing their jobs, draconian directives, staff meetings which are no more than exercises of
controlled participation, exodus of excellent teachers and more and more students taking
advantage of the fact that the teachers have no real power. Shep was considered one of
the best schools in the city to work in. Recently I have heard it referred to several times as
one of the 2 most toxic schools in the system to work in.

I believe that the problem is that the new philosophy was implemented before the school
was prepared. Fixing things that weren't broken was not the way to go, in my opinion.
Dorval was watching a school culture go from diligent students to students who know that
they don't have to do the work. No one can make them. Some students also believe that
they will be marked only on the work they hand in. It is then to their advantage not to do
the work they are weak in. This is, of course, only a segment of the students but that
number is growing. The students have not seen evidence of failure to pass as a result of
work not done. Many Shep teachers believe that this would not happen, instead the
administration would just inflate the mark. In the past a principal was expected to inform
a teacher of a change in marks and this happened only in unusual situations of
discrepancies. I know that all this is not what you intend, but that appears to be what has
been happening. The administration tried detentions but they couldn't make the kids
attend. To make up exams students are pulled out of other classes, even if it's something
important like a lab, and against the wishes of that teacher, creating a new make up
problem. At Shep they have failed to find efficient ways to make students do the work, in
my opinion.

Mike, who came to Ross Sheppard from a No Zero school intentionally, was runner-up for
the Alberta Excellence in Teaching Award 2011 while at Ross Sheppard. He is very good at
what he does. He is young and tried to comply, but you heard him. It took "soft zeros" to
get the work in. I believe that teachers ' time is too valuable to spend it chasing down kids
and then writing reports on the chasing. Until the school solves some of these other
problems they should let those who do it well, do their job.

I agree that using a zero in the mark is mathematically wrong, but it works for these
teachers. So well that very few zeros actually end up averaged into the final grade. In those
very rare cases the student would not pass on regardless, so who is hurt? Shep does not
carry incomplete into the next semester, so really that incomplete would be a fail or repeat
the course or whatever. This would not happen to a student unless he/she just refused to
do the work after being given many chances. The actual incident of a mathematically
incorrect zero being included in a grade would be very small and those students affected
would likely fail to pass either way.

I think we agree that percents are a ridiculous way to evaluate what a student knows. That
is also mathematically incorrect in my opinion. It is suggesting a ridiculous level of
accuracy. I think we are also on the same page with regards to mastery learning.
Sensibly, a report on learning should reflect how well a student knows the subject matter
at the time of reporting.

Of course I realize that a zero is mathematically wrong when using percent to report on
learning. However, I have observed that for many of these teachers "zero as a
placeholder" is a very effect way to get almost all of the work done. It leaves them more
time to follow the students that really need help and support. It improves the classroom
atmosphere by cutting down on nagging. Listen to that student, Jake, talk about his CAlM
teacher.http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/TV+Shows/Connect+with+Mark+Kelley/ID/2244
787148/ at approximately 5:00. Soft zeros allow teachers who have been successful to
continue what they have been doing well. I am not suggesting that policy change to force
schools or even individual teachers, who have found other ways to get the students to do
the work, use zeros as a placeholder. Much would have to change at Shep, before this
reformed assessment would work well.

In the meantime shedding doubt on the teacher (administration) assigned marks will likely
put greater emphasis on the diploma exam mark. We are talking about courses required
for university and other post secondary entrance. Where, by the way, they have no worries
about zeros. Most professors doc for late and many set a very exact time, after which a
paper is worth zero. I am not saying I approve, I just know that it's so.


The Grade Doctor's
Comment

2012-07-15

Thanks for your view of what is happening in Edmonton. You acknowledge that percentages and zeros are wrong but still support the use of 'soft zeros.' I do not understand why teachers who use or support 'soft zeros' would not simply change to no zeros and incomplete. Used properly incomplete is not soft, it is hard because it says this is what must be done and if miss any of the essential evidence it is incomplete, and you fail, no matter how well you did on the rest.
I find the discrepancy between classroom awarded grades and diploma exam scores interesting. The automatic assumption seems to be grade inflation by teachers and schools but it seems to me that at least some of the time the reverse is true - the class grades are accurate and the exam marks are grade deflation because a one-shot exam is bad assessment (a snapshot) while the album that the teacher has is a more accurate picture of student achievement.

 

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