Thursday, August 29, 2013

Late Assignment and non Zero Policies... good intentions gone astray?

It has been about a year or more since we have implemented a late assignment /non zero policy into our teaching. I liked what the policy was attempting to accomplish and I dislike the unintended outcomes. Both I hope to articulate here in this blog post and to suggest resolutions for.

When I first heard about not penalizing for late assignments, not putting a zero into a gradebook for late work and not giving a zero on an evaluation instrument I have to say  I was intrigued and excited with the potential benefits. It was my belief that not allowing a student to not submit work would begin to create a cultural/attitude change in students. Simply put... We are not letting you off the hook for assigned work... it must be done and submitted. In terms of cheating on a test... similar idea... We're going to see what you know and take your behaviour out of evaluation. These policies should have instilled a culture of excellence in our students, a drive to complete work and do it well. Like I said I liked the idea. 

Unfortunately what we hope in theory does not always come out in practice. In terms of the late assignment policy, some students are looking at the policy to mean they have the option of submitting work basically when convenient, when time permits. For some students this unfortunately means that assignments are not completed before testing occurs. This means outcomes covered on a test are not internalized or committed to long term understanding/memory simply because insufficient practice has been completed before testing occurs. The true reason... practice/reinforcement of outcomes... for assignments in the first place... is lost in the notion that one can complete the work later and still get full possible marks. For those students more academic than advanced, the impact is both visible and negative. Even more advanced students seem to be caught in this assessment vortex. 

In terms of testing, the idea in theory has not become the complete reality. Although it has not happened to me, I have been told by fellow teachers that, unfortunately, some students will either refuse to write the test on the scheduled day or say they are cheating to allow extra time to prepare for a retest. 

So the question becomes how do we, as teachers, bring what us potentially an excellent policy into a positive reality. I think there are a couple of things we could do:

1) Testing: When setting a test date with students, try to get a date that is beneficial to the majority of the students. Then, for students who know in advance that the assigned date is not sufficient, allow them to write on an alternate time/date (eg:lunch time or after school). I know that in my situation where others supervise the testing, I always tell students to talk with their fellow, on-site classmates and supervisors to decide upon a mutually beneficial test time/date. It is because of this I think that the retest is a rare event for me.

The use of ExamView software/publisher banks in conjunction with online testing also allowed me to do this easily this past year. Because the testing was online and I had so much variation in the question sets, a retest or even an alternate assignment was easy to reproduce. And make no mistake, this deviation from the ideal of the policy does have workload implications for teachers as well. 

2) Assignments: If it is okay for me, as a teacher, to accept an assignment well after its original submission date, after the summation evaluation for the curriculum outcomes upon which that assignment covered is done, or even worse if I, as a teacher, am allowing that work to be copied (and I have even heard photocopied and submitted) then why give the assignment in the first place? It's only value is a placeholder in the teachers gradebook as little or no learning has come from it. But, as I stated previously, if these assignments have value then we need to ensure that students have completed these assignments before testing occurs. I believe, that students should have to complete these pieces of assessment BEFORE the test occurs and should not be permitted to write the test until they are completed. As teachers, we have to be willing to administer alternate tests and to provide alternate assignments to ensure validity/reliability of those instruments. 

Again, the use of Examview software/publisher banks and online testing allows me to easily do this. In addition, the use of our learning management system allows me to release future assignments and tests based on the completion of previous assignments. The above suggestion is quite easy to do.

For me, the school year is almost ready to start. I am really hoping to bring the late assignment/non zero policy back to its ideal and create that culture of success. Time will tell.

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