Issues and Trends in Assessment
Frequently Asked Questions about No-Zero Policies
The no-zero debate is generating a lot of interest. You might be hearing people ask some of these questions. The Alberta Assessment Consortium (AAC) provides the following responses to help parents and the public develop a more complete understanding of the issues.
It doesn’t make sense. Why should kids get credit for doing no work?
Actually, they don’t get credit when they don’t do the work. Teachers determine the assessments that are needed in order to be sure students have learned the material. Students are expected to do the assignments.
When essential work is not completed at the end of the term, a mark of “incomplete” is entirely appropriate. The teacher does not have enough information to give a final mark. The student will have to repeat the course or at least complete the missing work in order to get credit.
Wait just a minute. How will kids learn to be responsible if teachers can’t give them zeros?
Contrary to popular belief, zeros do not teach students to be responsible. Zeros give students permission to quit. Educational authorities worldwide support this conclusion.
Instead of being given a zero for tasks not completed, students should be required to complete the work. This means students are required to be more responsible than if they are able to opt out of doing the work by simply ‘taking the zero.’
Why are we coddling kids like this? How will they ever learn to be accountable?
Making students do the work is what holds them accountable. Giving a student a zero is the equivalent of giving permission to quit.
Parents and teachers work together to help students as they learn to be accountable - by doing the work. The goal is learning, and we need to remember that students are in school because they are still learning. It’s our job to help them.
So, how do teachers motivate students to do the work if they don’t give zeros?
When an essential assignment is not completed on time, teachers, administrators, parents and the student work together to understand the problem and then find solutions. This might involve working on assignments at lunch, during study hall, after school or at some other negotiated time.
The emphasis is on supporting students and helping them build the skills they need to be successful adults, by insisting they take responsibility and do the required work.
Isn’t the no-zero policy what’s causing such irresponsible behavior at post-secondary and in the workplace?
Some people are suggesting that poorly motivated employees and students are the product of the no-zero policy. However, whole school or whole system no-zero policies are actually relatively new.
Some of the behaviours that are causing the problems in the workplace may actually stem from students who have been taking the zeros and thus opting out of their assignments. In the real world, that’s not how it works. You don’t get to say to your employer, “No thanks, I don’t actually want to do that. I’ll take a cut in pay today.”
Assigned tasks aren’t optional. But in the world of the zero, they seem to be. When students are assigned repeated zeros, they often quit and head off to the workplace without the skills they need. And that’s one possible reason there are problems with employees who don’t know how to work because they’ve been allowed not to.
Why shouldn’t behaviour be included in a student’s grade?
According to Alberta Education’s Teaching Quality Standard, “Teachers select and develop a variety of classroom assessment strategies to assess the full range of learning objectives” (1997, p. 6).
Behaviours, though important, are not typically specified as learner outcomes. As such, they must be reported separately.
The grades students receive should provide accurate information to the student, parent and others about how well the student has met the curriculum outcomes. When teachers include zeros for missing work – a behaviour issue – the grade no longer reflects what it is supposed to communicate.
Assigning a code of “incomplete” is a signal to both students and parents that more work is required before a grade can be assigned.