Local boards differ on 'no zero' policy
Controversial policy a possible career-ender for St. Albert resident
By: By Megan Sarrazin
| Posted: Saturday, Jun 30, 2012 06:00 am
Students who fail to hand in their assignments or write their tests risk getting a zero grade, at least within the St. Albert Public Schools district.
This is because the district does not have a no-zero policy in place, and Superintendent Barry Wowk said the district doesn’t plan on enacting one.
“It’s part of the professional responsibility of the teachers to assess their students,” he said. “We have conversations that probably encourage a lot of different alternatives and methods than giving zeros for missed assignments, but we don’t have a policy restricting teachers from doing that.”
The Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools division, however, takes a different stance. A zero will not be handed to a student, as a result of the district-wide no-zero policy.
“We have a no-zero policy as part of our overall student assessment,” said David Keohane, superintendent. “We expect nothing but success in our schools.”
He said the district is result- and outcome-based, adding if student results were negatively affected when the policy was implemented five years ago, the district would re-evaluate their way of teaching and grading.
He said having a no-zero policy forces the school system to engage with students and families who might otherwise slip through the cracks, since teachers are not able to simply hand out a zero.
“If you have policies set in place that perpetuate failure, how can you ever expect them to be diligent in their studies?” he asked.
Wowk said there is evidence to prove it is more beneficial to students to seek alternatives before marking a final grade of zero, but added the issue is complex and varies from student to student.
“What works with one child may not be what works with another child,” he said.
Lynden Dorval, 61, the science and physics teacher from Edmonton’s Ross Sheppard High School suspended earlier this year for awarding a zero, knows this debate all too well.
The 26-year St. Albert resident, who taught summer school and night classes at Bellerose Composite High School, was suspended with pay after failing to comply with the Edmonton Public School Board’s (EPSB) no-zero policy. After his suspension, he took the situation public.
“It’s something I didn’t expect, it’s far more huge than I expected. But it’s been good,” he said. “I used to say it was a sad way to end a career, but now, it’s the exact opposite. I can’t imagine a person being able to have so much of an effect just by doing that one act.”
Dorval said he would hand out a zero to students who failed to hand in their assignment or write a test on the scheduled date. The student would then have multiple opportunities improve this grade.
“I always expected it to be a temporary zero, but that was up to them, not up to me to harass them,” he said.
When EPSB implemented the no-zero policy, Dorval said a lot of teachers were unhappy, adding they got around it by cheating the system and instead awarding grades like three or eight per cent.
“It was something that staff didn’t like. They went along with it because no one was in my position where I could, so close to retirement,” he said.
Dorval said he planned to teach for at least another year.
He said he is now being considered for termination, although nothing will be determined until school is back in session in the fall, in accordance with the Schools Act. News also broke Friday that he could face an investigation for unprofessional conduct from the Alberta Teacher’s Association.
The EPSB voted unanimously Tuesday to do a review of their evaluation policy.
Both St. Albert school districts said they stand behind their policies and have regular discussions to ensure it is the right policy for students.