Zero Support for No-Zero Policies – Report

Michael Zwaagstra shows that there is little empirical support in favour of no-zero policies in K-12 education and that such policies are unpopular with parents and teachers.

August 27, 2012

Executive Summary

  • Many school boards and individual schools across the country have implemented no-zero policies as part of their formal guidelines for teachers. These policies prohibit teachers from giving marks of zero for incomplete work or for academic misconduct such as plagiarism. Since no-zero policies obviously have a major impact on assessment practices, it is important to carefully evaluate the arguments made in favour of this approach.
  • It is difficult to quantify how widespread no-zero policies are across Canada, since school boards tend not to advertise their existence. Nevertheless, the media report enough examples of no-zero policies to demonstrate that this practice is widespread.
  • The research on no-zero policies is surprisingly weak. In fact, the assessment consultants regularly cite each other as their only sources when defending no-zero policies, and they rarely refer to actual research evidence to support their position.
  • There are many reasons why school administrators should avoid no-zero policies. First, they inevitably bring controversy with them, something that is acknowledged by even their strongest proponents.
  • Second, no-zero policies unreasonably interfere with the professional discretion of teachers to determine grades. Teachers know their students and realize it is unrealistic to expect the same technique to work with every student. They use a variety of methods to hold students accountable.
  • Third, no-zero policies fail to prepare students for life after school. Employees are not paid for doing nothing, and universities do not grant credit to students who choose not to hand in their assignments.
  • The arguments against no-zero policies are compelling. No-zero policies always encounter fierce resistance from parents and teachers, unreasonably interfere with the professional discretion of teachers, penalize students who complete all their assignments on time and fail to prepare students for life after school. These are all excellent reasons for school administrators to avoid stepping into the quagmire of no-zero policies.

View entire study as PDF (18 Pages)

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