Sunday, June 10, 2012

Non Zero Policy and Student Achievement

It's that time of year again for many teachers. Students have finished review and are now writing final exams. What has made this year different for me as opposed to previous years is that I have a great deal of unfinished work that I am trying to correct, with work still left to come in. I've never had the issue before because students in the past have known that when deadlines were not met, there would be a zero placed in their grades. For those students that were potential procrastinators, the threat of a zero for a piece of evaluation was enough to get work handed in on time... or within a reasonable amount of time... all teachers should be flexible. That threat has been removed with the implementation of a non zero policy.

For those of you that may not be aware of a non zero policy, it basically goes like this. If a child is caught cheating on a test or exam, then a zero cannot be given. It is an attempt to separate behavior from evaluation. If a child cheats and a teacher assigns a zero on a test, does that mean that the student learned 0%. Of course not! The other piece of this policy refers to the submission of late work. Basically a teacher must accept late work at any time that a student submits it, without penalty and without a zero.

The policy, in it's theory, sounds quite reasonable and fair under the circumstances. The solution to cheating on a test would be as simple as a teacher having a second test ready just in case a student is caught cheating. Then a comparable test can be re-administered immediately. Using Examview Pro dynamic questions, multiple versions of a test can be created with ease. This part of the policy I am in total agreement with.

Even the acceptance of late work without penalty seems, upon first glance, to be quite fair. For math, an alternate assessment can easily be generated with Examview Pro dynamic questions or, with a Learning Management System, students can be denied access to the solutions until the original assessment is submitted. There are ways to achieve validity/reliability as well as have a minimal impact on teacher workload. From a teacher workload prespective the policy is fine. The problem with the policy is with student achievement/workload. Let me explain.

Suppose a student decides not to complete assigned work before the date of a scheduled test. The practice that is needed on questions similar to ones on the test as well as the learning that occurs from struggling with those questions has not occurred. When it comes time to study, the student struggles because proficiency/mastery with outcomes has not been achieved. Unfortunately, a lower result on the test is a potential and unexpected consequence of the non zero policy.

Our school year ends in June, as most school years do. If a student, who has not submitted work during the year, decides to submit it all at the end of the year, then the amount of material to be completed may be phenomenal. In addition to all the studying needed for final and standardized exams, the workload can be overwhelming at years end. Again, another example of a potential and unexpected consequence of the non zero policy.

The problem, as I see it, is not the non zero policy. I like the policy. The problem is with the implementation of the policy in the present model of curriculum delivery that we have. More specifically it is the time frame under which curriculum is to be completed. A typical math course starts in September and ends in June. The course is required to be finished in a particular time frame. However if courses were more modular in nature, students could potentially complete a test on a module after the prerequisite work is completed. Students could work at a pace that suits them to complete modules. Completion of a secondary mathematics program would occur after the required modules are completed and not after 3 years for example. Students who struggle with mathematics could complete modules at a slower pace, exceptionally academic students could complete modules early. With the use of the Internet/technology this model is possible. In this model, the teacher role would change to facilitator, as opposed to direct content deliverer.

I have seen models of this type of modular education in action. It has been used, with success, with at risk students. Could it work with mainstream education? Sure. But that would take a major change in out present education system.

After this year there is one thing that I do know. All students, regardless of academic ability, need to complete assigned work before they write a test to ensure maximum success. The challenge for next year will be trying harder to make this happen.

And now back to correcting late work!

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