Open letter on student assessment

June 1, 2012

Some parents, community members and students have asked why Edmonton Public Schools believes giving students a zero is not the right approach.

The reason we assign a certain grade is to give a student feedback on what they have learned. If a student writes a test and gets all the answers wrong, they are assigned a zero on that test. This tells the teacher the student does not know the material and needs extra support. The mark is then put in the context of all their other learning that takes place during the year. If, by the end of the year, the student still hasn’t mastered the material, they fail the course.

However, missed assignments are treated differently. Our approach to missed assignments is to work with each student to find out the reason they did not turn in an assignment. Once a teacher finds out the reason, they work with the student to come up with a solution to address the situation. They agree to a plan to turn in future assignments and the teacher holds the student accountable.

Our ultimate goal is for students to complete high school. To accomplish that goal, we must give students the tools they need to get there. We can’t write some students off if they have difficulty. If a student is struggling, we need to identify the cause and provide assistance.

We don’t let students off the hook and we don’t let them down, either. We set out clear expectations and then we support them in learning what they need to know. We give them opportunities to show us what they have learned. And we evaluate them on the work they actually turn in. That’s our approach to assessment.

In order for students to be successful in school and in life, they need the knowledge, skills and attitudes to make a smooth transition into the world of work and post secondary education. By taking an all or nothing approach to a missed assignment, we are not doing our job as educators to prepare all students, including those who face significant challenges, to take the next step in their educational journey as a lifelong learner.


Edgar Schmidt
Edmonton Public Schools