No-zero grade policies don't add up, teacher says

Suspended teacher Lynden Dorval, right, shakes hands with supporter and retired teacher Doug Senuik...

Suspended teacher Lynden Dorval, right, shakes hands with supporter and retired teacher Doug Senuik as Greg Plouffe, a parent and supporter, centre, looks on after a special School Trustee meeting in Edmonton, Alberta on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI AGENCY)

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:16 PM ET

WINNIPEG - A Manitoba teacher is giving a failing grade to schools and divisions that refuse to give students a goose egg grade for not handing in homework.

In a report issued Monday, Frontier Centre for Public Policy researcher Michael Zwaagstra argues there hasn't been enough study of no-zero policies -- which give students more time to do assignments, for example, instead of getting an incomplete and a zero for the assignment when it doesn't come in on time.

Manitoba moved away from a no-zero policy two years ago.

"It proved to be a complete disaster. It wasn't popular with parents and it wasn't popular with many teachers," said Zwaagstra, who teaches high school social studies.

But the "disastrous" policy still exists in other jurisdictions, Zwaagstra said, pointing to Alberta, where physics teacher Lynden Dorval was suspended for refusing to obey his Edmonton high school's "no-zero" policy and would hand out zero grades if students failed to hand in assignments or skipped exams.

No-zero policies promote poor work habits, Zwaagstra said.

"It doesn't prepare students for real life. If you're a journalist and you don't hand in a story, you don't get paid and you won't be working very long," he said.

In 2010, the Manitoba government clarified its position on no-zero policies that existed in some school divisions, said the head of the teachers' union. The province said it would be left to teachers to decide how to grade late or missed assignments.

"It's not obviously that we want to fail kids, but we want kids and parents to get an honest assessment," said Paul Olson, president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society.

"Parents don't want a sanitized opinion, they want a professional, honest opinion."

Even when they have the option of failing a student, Olson said teachers don't like it..

"It just kills us to give a zero. Teachers often bend over backwards to make sure students have every opportunity to ... succeed," he said.


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