This weekend, I was participating in a discussion on twitter around assessment and giving zeroes for work not handed in or completed. What I enjoyed about this discussion was that it provided an opportunity for discourse around an interesting topic where not all participants were ‘on the same page’. It started out with what seemed like an innocuous tweet:
— Darin Jolly, Ed.D. (@drjolly) October 20, 2013
From this tweet, a conversation arose questioning the need to assess and give zeroes. Most were positive around @drjolly’s link and information around assessment, some questioned the premise of not giving zeroes. This kind of debate is what I like about twitter, different view points on a topic, and the responses have to be 140 characters, so you need to be concise with your arguments.
The arguments for giving zeroes centered around the need for consequences for students, whether those consequences meant reduced marks for lateness, zeroes for missed deadlines, failing marks for incomplete or incorrect assignments. It was all about the ‘real world’ and that missing a test, not handing in a assignment should be treated as if each outcome is life or death. For the arguments on not giving zeroes, they focused on the rationale that assessments are based on curriculum outcomes or standards, and if there are no outcomes around lateness, you can’t assess. Or, only assess or grade those items that are showing learning, not behaviour.
For me, the bigger debate comes from why do we assess students? What is the goal or purpose for these assessments? If we want to keep the traditional, behavioural aspects of assessments, we need to make sure that students are aware of the criteria (which may be zeroes for lateness). If we want to assess learning, then we need to tackle this issue differently. There are no learning outcomes in British Columbia at the secondary level that assess tardiness, neatness, or when the learning needs to happen. Most, if not all, are about outcomes that are specific in their content or skill. I always used this argument to allow for re-writes on tests, anytime throughout the semester. It meant that I needed to have new assessments on the outcomes throughout the year, but I felt that my role as educator required me to assess their learning and not penalize them for their practice.
Assessment for Learning, with formative and summative sections, allow students to have self/peer/teacher assessments to improve their understanding. Of course, students can fail (cutely labelled as First Attempt In Learning), but that failure might be in a section (and so an incomplete mark for reporting) or a summary of their learning from the whole year. If a student hasn’t satisfactorily met the learning outcomes from one level to be successful at the next level, we are doing a disservice to those students by ‘passing them along’.
I will talk more about this in future posts.