Category Archives: assessment

When zero is not allowed, what is the difference between a student who doesn’t do assignments and a student who is on an Individual Education Program?


It is common to accommodate a student on an Individual Education Plan due to a disability either intellectual or physical, by reducing her workload if that is appropriate.  For example, an English teacher might require a student to answer one of two questions as thoroughly as every one else in the class.  For the second question he might jot down a few words to remind him of his thoughts on a possible answer, if he had time.  He will meet requirements of the assignment by thinking about both questions, but reducing the amount of writing required would accommodate his dysgraphia.

I should add that there are many other forms of accommodation.  Shortening the amount of work is only one but sometimes a useful one.

Gifted students on an IEP may have the number of questions they do for math practice reduced as they do not need as many to cement the concept.  Instead, the teacher may assign problems that take them farther into the concept.

You can see where this is leading.  What a teacher assigns and the amount she assigns is tied in to how much work she believes is needed to learn the material.  If you have read my four posts “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” you will remember that repetition AKA practice is necessary for learning skills.

If a student is not on an IEP, does a teacher have a moral right to change the program he used his expertise, experience and professional judgement to design just to accommodate a normal student who hasn’t handed in some assignments?

Consistently not doing work is a behaviour problem and those who are best equipped to deal with them should be informed: parents, guidance counsellors, principals, vice principals.  In the meantime, teachers should be allowed to get on with what they were trained to do.  And that includes assessment

Do we really want our future doctor, lawyer, builder of bridges, electrician or plumber accepted to train in their professions even though they had missed parts of their math or physics or English classes?  If they find zeroes discouraging, let them ask for help.  If they don’t want to learn enough to ask for help, please don’t lie to the public by indicating they have actually passed a course.

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From CTV Edmonton


Edmonton teacher suspended for handing out zeros

CTV News Video

CTV Edmonton: Does no-zero policy coddle kids?
Veronica Jubinville reports on an Edmonton, Alta. teacher who was suspended after giving students a grade of 0. Some say the policy is fair, but others are worried kids won’t learn if they can’t fail.
CTV Edmonton Morning Live: Career likely done
An Edmonton teacher who was suspended for the remainder of the school year for handing out zeros feels he will likely be terminated permanently come next September. CTV’s Laura Tupper reports.
CTV Edmonton: Teacher shares his side of story
An Edmonton teacher is speaking out after he was suspended from a local high school, reportedly because he gave his students zeroes.
Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

Photos

Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

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CTVNews.ca Staff

Date: Fri. Jun. 1 2012 9:07 PM ET

An Edmonton high school teacher said he’s been suspended for handing out zeros to students who didn’t complete their work, bucking a “no-zero” policy at the school.

Lynden Dorval said he doesn’t agree with the school’s behavioural code that bans awarding a grade of zero for incomplete work.

Instead, the policy introduced at Ross Sheppard High School almost two years ago treats unfinished work as a behavioural problem and not an academic one.

“So of course the student’s marks are only based on the work they have actually done,” Dorval told CTV Edmonton Thursday.

“It’s just like in real life, there are always consequences for not doing things,” the 35-year veteran teacher said.

Dorval’s marking system didn’t sit well with the school’s principal Ron Bradley, who sent a letter to the Edmonton Public School Board asking for a replacement teacher.

The letter cites three incidents where Dorval reportedly went against the policy, dating back to 2011.

It also outlines a meeting where Bradley told Dorval to remove the zeros and replace them with the school-sanctioned codes.

The school board wouldn’t confirm the reasons for Dorval’s suspension. It did state it was a staff discipline issue.

However, Schmidt said teachers are expected to follow assessment plans.

“When an assessment plan has been put in place at a school level, it’s my expectation that every staff member will stick to that plan,” he told CTV Edmonton.

Dorval told CTV the zeros he gave to students weren’t permanent, saying it’s important for students to learn about the “real world.”

“The students know that in my case they’re not permanent zeroes, it’s just an indicator that they have to do something about it because this is how their mark is going to turn out if they don’t,” he said.

Dorval’s suspension has prompted a wave of reaction from parents who are calling into radio stations, penning opinion columns, as well as calling the school, the board and the Education Department.

Many have dubbed Dorval the “Hero of Zero” who has stood up to those who allow children to get away with not doing their work.

“We’re hearing from parents. They’re seeing this in a very over-simplified kind of way,” Schmidt said.

“What we’re trying to explain is that students can fail courses if they don’t do the work. Kids are not given the opportunity to game the system.”

Meanwhile, students are somewhat perplexed by Dorval’s suspension.

“If the student didn’t do their work, why should they get any mark at all, so a zero sounds fine to me,” Dimitri Muzychenko told CTV Edmonton.

Another student, Mohamad Al-Jabiri, thought the punishment was too harsh.

“What is he supposed to do? Like he’s not going to run after the kids, it’s high school, right?” he said.

While Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson is keeping an eye on the situation, he does not plan to get involved, according to his spokeswoman, Kim Capstick.

“We don’t have a policy on grading. Albertans elect school boards for this,” said Capstick.

Dorval plans to appeal his suspension on the grounds that the principal went beyond his authority. The teacher also hopes to ignite a discussion on caring versus coddling.

With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Veronica Jubinville and files from The Canadian Press

Read more:http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20120601/teacher-suspended-marking-zeroes-120601/#ixzz1wvfJvauT

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three


THINKING ABOUT YOUR CHILD

A session in parent teacher meeting at Lahore ...

A session in parent teacher meeting at Lahore College of Arts and Sciences. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You have finally deciphered the code and concluded that the teacher is not a robot.  You are pleased with how your child has done in some things; other subjects or learning skills have you worried.  Before you go to the interview, think of your concerns and how you want to tackle them.

START WITH WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR CHILD

We all tend to be good at coming up with a shopping list of things that other people should do.  The problem is that we are the only people we have control over.  You can’t change the teacher’s personality or create more time for her to help your child.  You can’t make your child smarter or quieter.  What you can do is create a good environment to prepare her for school and encourage her to study when she gets home.

I have been there.  My children were not perfect about doing their homework every day but most of it got done and they were usually attentive in class.  That isn’t to say that sometimes their teachers didn’t get annoyed with them but these six things worked for them.

1.  Breakfast– they had to have it. Because it was cheaper I often made oatmeal but they were welcome to eat anything healthy.

2.  Lunch – they made it but all the fixings were in the fridge and I tried to make sure that most were healthy.   They eventually got smart and worked together to make the weeks sandwiches on Sunday and freeze them.  They learned that lettuce doesn’t freeze successfully.

3.  Sleep – was more important than homework.  “I haven’t finished my homework” was never an excuse to stay up late.  Any child who had to be hauled out of bed in the morning wasn’t getting enough sleep and went to bed earlier.

4.  Television – no more than half an hour on a school night.  Homework is a lot more interesting when there is no television (or computer or video games or other electronic distractions)

5.  Quiet time– right after dinner so we could all work.  Kids stayed in their own workspace.

Mathematics homework

Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6.  No incoming phone calls half an hour before bed and no outgoing phone calls an hour before bed.  It gave the kids time to calm down so they could sleep.  If they didn’t inform their friends, then I did when I answered the phone.

As you can see, # four and five were about the importance of homework and the rest were about the importance of their health so they could do well.  We didn’t stand over them while they did homework because it was their job.  We were available to help but they were responsible.

FIGURE OUT WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT

These worked for my family; something different may work for yours, but the same principles apply.  If you demonstrate that you will do everything you can to create an environment where your child can get his homework done and acquire healthy habits, eventually things will begin to fall into place.  If you are unsure of what role you, your child and your child’s teacher should play in your child’s homework, the attached chart copied from Dr. Maggie Mamen’s excellent book, The Pampered Child Syndrome: How to Recognize It, How to Manage It, and How to Avoid It, should help.  responsibilities for homework

LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD’S THOUGHTS ON HIS REPORT CARD

Now you have thought about where you can adjust the things you have control over, see if your child has some thoughts.  The best way to get good ideas out of a kid is not to expect anything you would approve of but sit back and listen as if your child was a respected colleague.  It is surprising the insights kids have when they aren’t worried about parents or teachers getting angry with them.

WHAT DO YOU WANT THE TEACHER TO TELL YOU?

With some thoughts from your child and some ideas about what you could do, think about what you would like the teacher to tell you.  This is where it gets tricky.  A lot of parents come away from interviews without anything useful because the teacher has sugarcoated everything.

Why would a teacher do that?  She does that because she has been literally yelled at too often when she told the truth.  If you have an evening interview after she has taught all day, fatigue is beginning to set in; she will be even less likely to be frank.  You may be tired and hungry as well and not open to any suggestions that your child’s behaviour is not perfect.  Bringing some muffins and tea might be a smart move.

HOW TO GET PAST THE SUGARCOATING

Ask your questions.  When the teacher’s response seems to be sugar coated and you reckon you can deal with the truth – in fact you will probably have a good idea what the truth is, then state it as a question.  “Johnny is a sociable boy” from the teacher might translate to a question from you “are you finding that he is talking and distracting others when he should be getting down to work?”

VOLUNTEER ONLY FOR STRATEGIES YOU CAN FOLLOW THROUGH ON

When you have agreed on what his main strength and weaknesses are, ask what you can do at home to help.  You might not be able to do anything but give the teacher moral support as she tries the various strategies in her repertoire.  Moral support is a lot, however, if a teacher does not feel she is going to have to justify every strategy.  If you do agree to do something, make sure it is something you can follow through on.  If you travel a lot, then signing your child’s agenda every night is not going to work.

FOR SERIOUS PROBLEMS EXPLORE THE OPTIONS

If the problems seem to be serious and you wonder if they have more to do with the child’s ability, you are within your rights to ask the teacher about your concerns.  Sometimes parents see things that teachers don’t.  You can ask the teacher to bring your child up at an in school team meeting to make sure there aren’t other things that can be explored.

If the problems are the normal ones of a normal child, thank your lucky stars. No matter what, even if you have disagreed about the next course of action, let the teacher know that you appreciate her efforts.  She may not be perfect and she may not always teach the way you would like, but she cares about the children in her class and she works hard to do her best for them.  A thank you or a kind word goes a long way.

Parents and teachers need to remember that they are both on the same side: the success and well-being of the student.

For More Information

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three to understand how comments are generated.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three to understand how marks are derived.

R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure) to understand what an R on the report card means.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three


INTERPRETING COMMENTS ON THE REPORT CARD

In vain we begged students and parents to focus on the learning skills and comments instead of the marks. Asking them to focus on the comments proved to be a mistake in some cases and here is why.

GENERIC COMMENTS

Teachers are asked to list the students’ strengths, weaknesses and next steps in the comments section, using verbs and adverbs from a number of suggested lists. They do not have to be used, but a teacher who does use them is less likely to be asked to redo a comment. It is accepted practice to write a generic remark for all the students and then individualize each one with appropriate adverbs and perhaps more personal next steps. Some teachers get very clever at writing the generic comment. The generic child in the report card program is called Casper. Here is an example of the generic comment: “Casper has demonstrated an understanding of the usefulness of titles and subtitles in anticipating the topics covered in difficult text. He has difficulty using context, the titles and other vocabulary to infer meaning for unknown words. He is encouraged to read more non-fiction and take time to reflect on difficult language.” In the first sentence, “thoroughly” can be inserted after demonstrated or “a thorough” can replace “a” to create an appropriate comment for a level 4 student. If Casper is having difficulty, then “not yet” can be inserted between “has” and “demonstrated” or more mildly “rarely” or “occasionally” might be inserted. The teacher might have written the second sentence because the majority of students were having the same problem and part of the solution might be encapsulated in the third sentence. Again, the second sentence might be modified by suggesting that Casper has “some difficulty” or “little difficulty” in which case he may be “encouraged to continue to read …” in the third sentence. The program will change Casper to the child’s name and put in the correct pronouns and modifiers. Occasionally it makes a mistake and when we don’t catch it in the proofreading, there is an indignant student.

PEDAGOGICAL BUZZWORDS

You may be wondering about all the stuff about sub titles, context and inferring. These are some of the buzzwords in a new (and excellent) approach to teaching reading, called Balanced Literacy. The teacher is signaling to the principal or vice-principal who will be reading and signing her report cards that she is very much au courant with the latest and greatest trend in teaching to the extent of using it and evaluating it in her classroom. It’s also a signal to any parents who like to research the latest in teaching. Why would she bother? Teachers are under some pressure to be seen to be aware of and impressed by whatever the latest thing in education is. This is because principals are pressured to have the latest and best in their schools and so on. Sometimes it is sufficient to have the outward garb such as the Word Wall of Balanced Literacy and it is rather funny to see educators faking it. In the best schools, whatever comes across the teachers’ desks is evaluated for usefulness and integrated as appropriate. The report card comments may seem mechanical and awkward. They make anyone who likes good writing shudder, however parents were promised accountability and for some, that means report cards being the same while being individualized. There are times when doing a good job in education feels like being the old man and his donkey. Perhaps we listen too much to everyone’s opinion instead of trusting those experienced and well-educated professionals in the classrooms to pose the problems and propose the solutions. That’s a discussion for another day.

For More Information:

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three to understand how marks are derived. Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three to reflect on how each of the three parties involved can work on any issues brought up by the report card. R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure) to understand what an R on the report card means.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three


UNDERSTANDING THE ELEMENTARY REPORT CARD

 

You have received your child’s report card and on Thursday evening or Friday

 

Report Card, Winter 1903

Report Card, Winter 1903 (Photo credit: Carosaurus)

 

morning of this week you will be meeting with the teacher. If this is the first time your child has received a report card in Ontario, you may have some questions. To save you time in the fifteen minutes allotted with the teacher, I will try to clarify a few things below.

 

LEARNING SKILLS: The Heart of the Report Card

 

report card 1944

report card 1944 (Photo credit: pjern)

 

Teachers take the learning skills section of the report card very seriously. Twenty, even ten years ago, part of a mark in some subjects might have been for homework completion, effort or participation. That is no longer allowed. Teachers may not even take off marks for late assignments. The only place that those issues may be addressed now is in the learning skills section.Learning Skills per report card The nine learning skills are not a frill about non-academic issues but skills that go to the heart of your child’s long-term success in school and probably in the work world. Take a look and ask yourself if these aren’t qualities employers look for when they are hiring or promoting. I have attached the detailed lists of learning skills here so you can see what teachers take into account when they assign a Not Satisfactory, Satisfactory, Good or Excellent to each skill.

 

MARKS: the teachers use levels 1 to 4 for assessment

 

Let’s look at the marks assigned to the subjects. Teachers are required to assess students on a scale of 1 to 4 (I have covered R in a previous post R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure)). A level 3 is the provincial standard and should mean that the student has successfully mastered the material and skills. The key word here is mastered as opposed to crammed sufficiently to fake it on a test and then forget it. A level 2 means that the student is approaching mastery but needs more practice, time or effort. Usually the student can achieve a level 3 with more work. At a level 1 a student is floundering and unclear on the subject matter or weak in the skills. It is possible he might achieve a level 3, but a lot of help and extra work may be needed. If a student has a number of level 1s, parents and teachers should be prepared to discuss options for the next year such as retention, remediation or an individual education plan. A level 4 means that the student is regularly going beyond mastery in this area. It does not necessarily mean that the student is working above grade level although that is one possibility. Depending on the subject, the teacher might consider differentiating the program for some topics for this student. You might also discover that some of the work has been open-ended, allowing the student to go further in his work. BUT on the report card the marks are not shown as levels. It would make sense for the marks on elementary report cards to be written as levels 1, 2, 3 and 4, but they aren’t. Below is the chart the ministry produced in 1998 instructing the Boards of Education in Ontario about putting marks on report cards. Appendix B: Provincial Guide for Grading

 

Level Definition Letter Grade (Grades 1 to 6) Percentage Mark (Grades 7 and 8)
Level 4 The student has demonstrated the required knowledge and skills. Achievement exceeds the provincial standard. A+ A A– 90–100 85–89 80–84
Level 3 The student has demonstrated most of the required knowledge and skills. Achievement meets the provincial standard. B+ B B- 77–79 73–76 70–72
Level 2 The student has demonstrated some of the required knowledge and skills. Achievement approaches the provincial standard. C+ C C– 67–69 63–66 60–62
Level 1 The student has demonstrated some of the required knowledge and skills in limited ways. Achievement falls much below the provincial standard. D+ D D– 57–59 53–56 50–52
R or Below 50 The student has not demonstrated the required knowledge and skills. Extensive remediation is required. R Below 50

 

CONFUSED?

 

The parent of a student in a grade one to six class shouldn’t be too confused; the A, B, C, Ds of old more or less match up with the new levels and the definitions help. The R makes sense. If your child is in grade seven or eight and you are trying to calculate how they got a certain percentage in a subject, stop! If the teacher followed orders, she assessed him using the 1 to 4 marking scheme, following the definitions listed in the chart and then converted the assessment to the meaningless percentage on the right. You need to remember that the percentage IS meaningless unless you interpret it according to the definition provided by the level.

 

IS THIS LESS CONFUSING?

 

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board tried to clarify things by telling teachers to use only specific numbers such as 52, 55 and 58 for level 1 and so on through the levels. Although it was a tad confusing for parents, that bit was relatively easy to explain. What was more difficult was the 20% spread for level 4 when all the other levels had a 10% spread. This made an A+ worth a heck of a lot more than an A-. Some top students began to feel cheated, especially initially when the top mark was 95%.

 

For More Information:

 

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three to understand how comments are generated. Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three to reflect on how each of the three parties involved can work on any issues brought up by the report card. R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure) to understand what an R on the report card means.

 

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure)


The R in Theory & Practice in Ontario

One of the good things about the use of R in today’s report cards is that it is a red flag meaning HELP NEEDED HERE!  It does not assess how well a student is learning that grade’s curriculum; where an R is assigned it means that the student will need remediation to reach a level where she can start learning that grade’s curriculum.  The R also indicates that the child’s parents need to be involved.

The questions are what kind of help, how, who will deliver it and how soon it can be delivered. It can be taken as given that the teacher is already differentiating appropriately for the student, although if she is the one teaching 29 students of whom 25 are on IEPs one could be forgiven for wondering how that is going.  (see Inclusive Education in Practice) Cleaning the Augean Stables might be easier.

Planning for a Child Assessed with an R

When a student is assessed with an R, a plan must be created to address how the student will acquire the necessary remediation.  That plan must indicate what the teacher will do and how the parent will be involved.  Both stakeholders and other relevant members of the staff will have input, but creating the plan is the unspoken responsibility of the teacher.

Pedagogically, this is a sound idea.  The student is regarded not as a failure but one who needs help.  The school and family join forces to see he gets that help.  If they can identify ways and means to do it without anyone, and especially the parents, made to feel that they aren’t doing enough, then the child’s remediation might prove effective.

Parents and Teachers Working Together

It takes a lot of tact to discuss simple things at home that can make a big difference at school. All that apple pie stuff about good nutrition, a good breakfast, enough sleep, sufficient time, quiet and place to do homework, consistency and patience are true.  There is a reason children are not born able to stand on their own two feet.

More than anything, most teachers would love to include the following in the plan:

o      Bobby’s parents will continue to work with the school to create an educational and behavioural plan to help him improve.

o      Bobby’s parents will not give up after three weeks involvement in a plan because:

§       They don’t yet see improvement

§       Bobby says his teacher says he doesn’t need it

§       Bobby drives them nuts with his complaining about the plan

§       It’s too much work

Consistency isn’t easy but it makes a difference in helping children.

Teachers and parents often choose the one or two things they see as most important and focus on those.  Further, they tend to choose concrete items.  A favourite is the agenda.

In that case the plan is clear and simple: the teacher will check that homework is written down accurately in the child’s agenda and initial it.  At home, the parents will check the agenda, see that the listed homework is done and initial the agenda.  (see Should Students in French Immersion Need Tutors? for Dr. Maggie Memen’s model for shared responsibility for homework)  The teacher may add that she will follow-up with an in school team meeting and seek the advice of her colleagues.

The In School Team Meeting

The in school team meeting as it is usually called is often a good resource for teachers.  The principal or vice-principal attends as well as a special needs teacher and often an out of school resource person.  Their questions are brief, relevant and helpful.  In addition to practical advice they may encourage the teacher to start the process for educational and psychological testing.

Looking for Help Outside the Classroom, the School and the Board

Not all the suggestions require teacher or parent action.  Some require the board to act, for example, by providing psychological testing, but the child may wait six months to a year for board action. Since that kind of delay is too long in the short life of a child’s education, teachers might advise parents to pay for testing privately if they can afford it; this, of course, cannot be written up as part of the plan to help the student.  A teacher who is known to have suggested to parents that they pay out of their own pockets for a service boards are expected to provide is risking a reprimand.

Even assuming he qualifies for help, the right placement might not be available for the student.  Other kinds of help require money, public or private.  Sometimes a social worker can chase down some support; sometimes it is a question of getting in line; sometimes it just isn’t there.

An R May Not be Used Repeatedly

Finally, teachers are instructed that an R may not be used repeatedly. This is a puzzle; what if the student continues to work at this level?  What if the parents and teacher are doing their part of the plan but waiting for the board to do its part?  How does a teacher avoid putting an R on the report card in these instances?  This does sound like a thirteenth labour of Hercules!

R as an Improvement in Attitude on F

In spite of some of the practical difficulties an R creates, it is not the dead-end that an F for failure was.  The spirit is that if a child is not succeeding she either needs remediation or support or is in the wrong program.  It does not preclude the possibility that the child needs to change her behaviour.

As you can see, like a lot of well-meaning pedagogical ideas, the R on the Ontario report card requires solid support to be effective. Whether sufficient support exists in every Ontario school for every student with an R is another story.

For more Information on Report Cards:

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three to understand how marks are derived.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three to understand how comments are generated.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three to reflect on how each of the three parties involved can work on any issues brought up by the report card.

When Our Goals are No Longer about Education


In a previous post I questioned the value of paperwork in education (Rethinking “Education for All” Charts: Does Paperwork Improve Teaching?). Since then, I have been sent this link, an account of what happens when education is no longer what comes first in a school board. It is an hour long, but if you care about education at all, it is worth the 60 minutes.
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=275

If you can’t get it on the above link, try:

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/275-two-steps-back/id345311689

I believe it is free.