Tim, who I know personally, and is a great teacher asked me the following on Facebook after he read some of my stuff here.
John-read your letter and (most) of your blog. My wife and I had a long talk about this issue yesterday. I certainly understand your perspective related to this issue, and I would like to see myself as a forward thinking educator like yourself. Here is my point of contention. I am a junior high language teacher. I have students who do not hand in major essays. After much cajoling and reminding, and second and third chances, and after the deadline is long gone, they still have not handed that work in. If I leave that spot blank, or even put a “missing” in Powerschool that student’s average is unchanged. At the end of the term that mark is reported, but does not reflect what the student has and hasn’t done. Yes, I can and do supplement that mark with comments that tell the larger story, but the mark is unchanged. And further, in junior high that student moves on regardless of marks, because we don’t keep kids back. A different, but related issue. Solve my problem John, and you will have converted me.
The most common feedback I get when I work with teachers outside my world (HS math) is that my ideas don’t translate as well to their subjects. I took this stab at replying to Tim:
Tim, the most common feedback I get to my “assessment show” when I work in schools comes from Social Studies and English teachers like yourself. It’s way easier to get a kid to write a math test than it is to get a kid to write a persuasive essay. I totally get that. The schools I know that have the most clearly defined assessment policies (notice I didn’t say no-zero policy) do not allow teachers to assess anything they didn’t see the student doing. Essays must be written in class. This helps in two ways. 1. You can make the kid do it while he’s there (like making him write a math test). 2. You know the kid wrote it himself. I don’t know if that’s strong enough to convince you, but I think it’s how HS teachers are making it work.
John, I appreciate that you took the time to address my issue, and I do see the in class essay as one possible solution. However, there are many curricular outcomes that are not shown in the in-class situation, such as research and thoughtful editing and revision. It’s a difficult issue all around, but I think it is great that we are having this discussion. I’m not against the no zero policy necessarily, but I do continue to look for solutions to problems that arise.
Tim’s a great guy and a great teacher. Help me help him. If you teach secondary humanities and make an accurate assessment plan work (notice I didn’t say “no-zero policy”), can you please reply in the comments how you make it work?