Edmonton Public Schools… In the News

Zeros for missed work unfairly skew grades: education experts
Students are held accountable in better ways, authorities say
The Edmonton Journal, June 8, 2012

Education experts and officials are defending the controversial no-zero approach used in most Edmonton public high schools, despite public backlash unleashed last week after a high school teacher who gave zeros was suspended. Read more.

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City Hall School students celebrate citizenship
Metro News, June 7, 2012

Students from nine Edmonton schools shared what it means to be a good citizen during a citizenship fair celebration at city hall Wednesday.

“When we grow up, the students in our class all want to find a way to make a difference in the world,” said Grade 3 Hillview Elementary School student Emma Fagan. “We are the future, but we are starting today.” Read more.

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CTV Edmonton, June 7, 2012
Students at Edmonton’s Vimy Ridge Academy are helping out Habitat for Humanity. Alfred Nikolai from Habitat for Humanity and student Sydney Carreiro were interviewed.

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Edmonton AM (CBC), June 6, 2012
Interview about Edmonton’s Chinese Bilingual Program being in such great demand that some parents in the city’s southwest starting a petition to bring the mandarin language program to their area. Stephen Tsang, Vice President, Edmonton Chinese Bilingual Association, was interviewed.

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CBC Edmonton, June 4, 2012
Later this week some of the world’s best soccer players will be competing in the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.  Today in Edmonton an elementary school is hosting its very own Mini Euro Cup tournament.

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CTV Edmonton, June 4, 2012
About 700 students from three German bilingual elementary schools are taking part in a mini world cup soccer tournament today at Forest Heights School. Barbara Ritter, Mini Euro Cup organizer, talked about the tournament, which includes 78 games.

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Edmonton Public Schools’ Assessment Practices

There has been a great deal of interest in our school district’s assessment practices. Below we have compiled the answers to some of the most common questions we’ve received.

Why don’t you give students zeros?

Why were zeros okay when I was in school?

Why does it seem like public education doesn’t hold kids accountable?

Isn’t it our responsibility to teach kids about the real world?

Where can I learn more about assessment?

Why don’t you give students zeros?

  • We need to make sure students do the work that is required of them. We can’t let them off the hook by giving them a zero. If we do that, they don’t do the work and we can’t assess what they know.
  • Assessment is a summary of what a student knows. It is not a commentary on behaviour.
  • Missed assignments are a behaviour issue. Teachers are responsible for finding out why an assignment was missed and take steps to address this issue. This takes a lot of work, but our students are worth the effort.
  • Educational research (see below for links) has shown that many students are not motivated to work harder at learning when they get a zero grade. Some students are at risk of not completing school. We need to keep them motivated, help them learn the curriculum, and give them fair and appropriate opportunities to demonstrate their learning.

Why were zeros okay when I was in school?

  • Like all things, the nature of assessment has changed considerably over the past few decades.
  • At one time, assessment only measured what a student had learned at the end of a unit or course. There was no way for students to benefit from ongoing assessment throughout the year.
  • Educational research has shown that sharing ongoing feedback with students about their progress throughout the year is a better approach.
  • By giving students regular feedback, assessment helps students understand where they are doing well, where there are gaps in their understanding, and what they can do to bridge that gap. This approach is having a great deal of success among students who are struggling.

Why does it seem like public education doesn’t hold kids accountable?

  • Public education works to instill accountability among students. One of the ways we do this is by requiring them to submit missed assignments. We don’t allow them to get off the hook by giving them a zero and moving on. We find other approaches to ensure they get the work done. They are in school to learn. Some of the things students learn as part of their education are concepts of responsibility, commitment and accountability.

Isn’t it our responsibility to teach kids about the real world?

  • For students, school is the real world. They need to get to school on time. They need to attend regularly. They need to study to pass tests. They need to turn in assignments to get a grade. They gain time management skills, learn how to balance competing priorities and discover how to overcome challenges.

Where can I learn more about assessment?

There are many articles that provide great background information on assessment. Some of the best for non-educators are:
Alberta Assessment Consortium – Issues and Trends in Assessment

The Case Against the Zero, by Douglas B. Reeves, Chairman of the Centre for Performance Assessment
Phi Delta Kappan
, Vol. 86, No. 4, December 2004, pp. 324-325

Zero Alternatives, by Thomas R. Guskey, Professor of Education, University of Kentucky
Curriculum and Instruction, Principal Leadership, October 2004, pp. 49-53

For those looking for more in depth information:

Alberta Student Assessment Study - Page 135 of the study states, in part:

  • 12. Assessment practices respect student dignity.
  • 13. Assessment must not be used to reward or punish.
  • 14. Assessment of achievement is not aggregated with assessment of behaviour.
  • 15. Timed assessments are used only when they align with curricular learning outcomes.
  • 16. Neatness is assessed only when it directly relates to learning outcomes.
  • 17. No-zero policies support student-learning outcomes.

The Alberta Teacher’s Association – Information for Teachers About the “No Zeros” News Story

 

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.

Sincerely,

Edgar Schmidt
Superintendent
Edmonton Public Schools

Update on student assessment

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of discussion about Edmonton Public Schools’ views on student assessment. A number of terms are being used interchangeably that are actually quite distinct.

Here’s a brief overview to help clear things up:

  • There is a board policy on student achievement and growth, but there is no board policy on the awarding of zeros.
  • There is an administrative regulation stating staff must not use academic grades to correct behaviour.
  • District practice is to support schools that do not assign a zero grade for work that is not turned in.
  • Each school provides students and parents with a written description of the school procedures to assess, evaluate and communicate student achievement and performance.

Why do we grade students the way we do?

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about no zero policies. Edmonton Public Schools does not have a district-wide no zero policy.

Each school makes decisions on how to assess students, based on guidelines from Alberta Education. Teacher observation, assignments, quizzes, group work, conversations and formal tests are some of the ways a teacher determines how a student is doing.

Teachers do not assess how students are doing compared to other students. They are required to assess an individual student’s understanding of the curriculum.

Edmonton Public Schools believes assessment should demonstrate what a student knows at a given point in time, as well as give feedback to students on areas they need to work on to do better.

Some schools believe that giving a zero does not provide a student with high quality feedback. This is because a zero means an absolute lack of understanding of the curriculum. This is rarely the case.

For example, if a student does not turn in an assignment, there is no way to determine what they know about the curriculum, so the teacher does not assign a zero. They see it as a behavioural issue and look at other ways to address the situation. The goal is to ensure the student submits something upon which to assess their knowledge and understanding.

Education Consultant Damian Cooper has written a great article explaining this point of view.

There have also been a number of media stories about the suspension of a district staff member. Because it is a confidential staff discipline issue we can’t speak to the specifics of this individual case, but can say that the situation is serious and complex. The Superintendent does not make such decisions lightly.

The School Act authorizes suspensions for only three reasons: if there are reasonable grounds for believing the teacher has been guilty of gross misconduct, neglecting the teacher’s duty or neglecting to obey a lawful order of the board.

More information:

Board Policy: Student Achievement and Growth

Administrative Regulation: Communicating Student Achievement and Growth (Progress Reports and Individual Program Plans)