Alberta teachers vote against blanket policies on zeros

Vytai Brannan / Global News

EDMONTON – During its Annual Representative Assembly in Edmonton, the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) voted against urging school boards to have overarching policies on giving or not giving grades of zeros.

Early Monday afternoon, Alberta teachers defeated a resolution that would have had the ATA urge school boards to eliminate “no zero student grading policies.”

“The opinions are diverse which is why our policy is good,” said ATA President Carol Henderson. “It allows teachers to have diverse opinions.”

Instead, the ATA supports the autonomy of teachers to make decisions regarding student assessment and grading in their classes.

“It is the professional judgment of the teacher on how they assess, and that’s the bottom line,” explained Henderson. “We don’t want to narrow that.”

Therefore, a teacher could give a zero grade if that assessment aligns with their professional opinion and grading philosophy.

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However, if another teacher didn’t agree with assigning zeros, they would not be mandated to do so.

“I’m actually against no-zero policies myself,” shared Fort McMurray high school teacher Sheldon Dahl. “I think there needs to be accountability… There are consequences in life, and if we remove consequences from the education system then some students are going to try to take advantage of it.

“That said, I was against the resolution because it urged school boards to eliminate any no zero policies,” he added. “My opinion is one thing – I’m not going to go and tell my colleagues how to run their classrooms.”

In the ATA’s Annual Representative Assembly Resolution Bulletin for 2013, Resolution 2-4/13 reads:

“Be it resolved, that the Alberta Teachers’ Association urge school boards to eliminate any no zero student grading policies. Note – Teachers should be allowed their professional right to grade students in a manner that they see fit.” (Read the full list of resolutions below).

“So whether it’s telling teachers they have to give zeros, or telling teachers that they cannot give zeros, I am against school boards interjecting themselves into the teachers’ assessment at all,” said Dahl.

“If you leave it up to the individual teachers, they can make that judgment based on a case by case basis. When you remove it from the classroom, then you have a school board having a blanket rule in all situations, and it’s not going to work all the time,” he added.

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Recently, the Edmonton Public School Board adopted an assessment policy in which teachers can give any grade they deem appropriate, including a zero.

That policy decision was made after a Ross Sheppard High School teacher, Lynden Dorval, was let go after handing out a zero grade.

That debate sparked the ATA’s discussion on student grading.

“It came out of course because of the situation in Edmonton,” explained Henderson, “and I think teachers just wanted to discuss it.”

The ATA’s long-range policy reads: “Assessment and evaluation of student learning are the responsibility of those teachers providing the instruction. Note – There has been an increasing level of direction provided to teachers regarding their assessment practices. The responsibility for assessment must rest with the teacher. Professionalism must be respected.”

Marie-Blanche Mitchell, an elementary school teacher with Edmonton Public, says she supports teacher autonomy, but feels there needs to be more consistency across the board in grading.

“There still has to be a standard throughout … Alberta … of how we evaluate students.”

“I am feeling very strongly in favour of giving zeros for work not done,” she said.

“How are we as teachers doing a favour to the students for their future career, for the work world, for university, post secondary, if we’re codling them?”

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“I feel that if some teachers are allowed to give the ‘not handed in mark’ and others are very strictly zeros… How does the student graduating get into university? Comments don’t cut it, they need a mark, they need a percentage.”

ATA Resolutions 2013

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