It was a meeting that wasn’t even scheduled to happen, but as the Edmonton Public School Board met for an extra meeting Tuesday afternoon, most of the focus was on the controversial so-called “no zero policy.”
Longtime Ross Sheppard High School teacher Lynden Dorval was suspended this spring. He says it was because he wouldn’t go along with the school’s rule against handing out zeroes to students. The board said his principal reported Dorval for insubordination, and the board took action.
Since his suspension, the issue of zeroes – and whether or not students should receive them for work not handed in – has become a topic of major public interest.
“When I first heard of it,” said Dorval Tuesday afternoon, “I was really – being a science person – very skeptical. They did claim it was research-based, so I started doing my own research, and it’s been confirmed recently in fact that there’s no such research on this.”
The Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) does not have an overarching policy that bans teachers from handing out zeroes. However, it has an assessment practice that discourages zero grades, but every school can make its own individual grading policies.
“It’s a question about motivates students,” adds EPSB trustee Michael Janz. “Being able to ensure that our teachers can elicit the best work from students is a top priority for our board.”
A Ross Sheppard student started a petition to revoke the no zero practice and have Mr. Dorval rehired. After just a few days, the petition had hundreds of signatures. The issue sparked online response as well; Facebook pages and Twitter accounts were created, mostly by parents, students, and former teachers. A group of students even created T-shirts that read “Dump the No Zero policy.”
Many people felt that not handing out a zero grade lets students off the hook, and doesn’t teach there are consequences for not completing work.
“Ontario had banned it many years ago,” said Dorval. “They went through this, and the Minister of Education finally stepped in and banned the requirement for teachers not to use zeroes.”
“I think it’s driven by the way funding is done all across North America. I think the government has the best intention; they decide to put the onus on school boards to get better completion rates because they aren’t that good, but the problem with that is that it’s driving this optics that we have, where as long as you can make it appear as though students are doing better, we get funding.”
The board argued zeroes don’t reflect the work done – handed in or not. “You can’t make a judgment on their actual level of performance because you don’t have evidence in front of you to say what it is they’ve actually done or are able to demonstrate that they know,” said Edgar Schmidt, Superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools.
After a strong public outcry, Janz put a motion forward that the board review its assessment practices.
“It’s important for our board that we’re responsive to the community, and there’s been some great questions raised by the community,” he said.
Members of the public were invited to voice their questions and concerns at Tuesday’s meeting. EPSB trustee Sarah Hoffman told the crowd there have been many misconceptions about what students need to do to advance in the classroom.
Ahead of the meeting, Dorval was hopeful the board would simply take another look at the practice.
“Well, hopefully at least the motion will be approved, and in fact they’ll review.”
By the end of the board meeting, trustees had voted in favour of reviewing the EPSB assessment practices.
After the meeting, Dorval was pleased with the way things went.
“It’s good to see that they’re considering this, hopefully the motion will pass, and we’ll get on with the next phase, which is looking at a better way of doing things.”
He said he hasn’t been fired. Legally, the board must give him 30 days notice of termination, and that notice cannot be given over the summer.
Dorval said he has absolutely no regrets, if this is in fact the end of his career.
“Last week, I said it was a sad way to end my career but, in fact, I believe it’s the exact opposite now. I can’t imagine a better way to end a career,” Dorval said adding “It’s had this effect. Getting people to talk, parents and the public know now what’s happening in schools. Before, they weren’t being informed and now that’s happening.”
Dorval describes the entire process as stressful however, is moved by the outcry of support he has been receiving. He showed emotion as he described what he would be doing, if he was still in school now.
“Right now i’d be finishing marking exams and we’d have meetings, getting ready for next year whereas, i’m not even allowed on school property. So, it’s something i’m having a hard time getting used to.”
“I knew that all along,” Dorval said adding, “I was prepared to end my career on if I had to.”