Cheaters do not really prosper in schools, but many are now being given a “second chance.” In a few Canadian and American school districts, giving students a second chance to pass tests, examinations, and other assignments, has actually become accepted as “student assessment” policy promoting a unique 21st century concept of “fairness.” In Newfoundland’s largest school board, the Eastern School District, the policy was changed in October 2011 so students cheating or plagiarizing will no longer be assigned a mark of zero. http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1075276–cheating-students-get-second-chance-in-newfoundland
The Newfoundland and Labrador school board’s policy change is not what it seemed – an isolated and rather bizarre deviation from sound education policy. The tradional “automatic zero” is dying a slow death, aided and abetted by student assessment experts, and being supplanted by “do-over” evaluation practice in schools across North America. The Eastern School Board Superintendent Ford Rice was quite accurate when he claimed that the policy was driven by “current literature in education” and was “consistent in philosophy” with policies in other boards across Canada. http://www.cbc.ca/news/pdf/nl-evaluation-regulations-20111005.pdf
Publicly announcing the Newfoundland school board’s new policy is what really sparked a firestorm of protest. President of the provincial Teachers’ Association Lily Cole spoke out, saying that teachers were not only frustrated but very unhappy with the policy which took responsibility for teaching “responsibility, respect, honesty, and values” away from regular teachers. “This just takes it out of our hands,” she told both CBC News and The Toronto Star.
“Students will not be given zeros for cheating,” Rice insisted, because the Board’s educational philosophy was to “separate student behaviour from learning to give us a true picture of what the student knows.” Rising to defend the new student cheating policy on the airwaves was perhaps the leading exponent of “do-over” student assessment, Ontario education consultant Damian Cooper. In the old system, he claimed, students who “failed at the test” were “tossed onto the heap ” and branded “non-achievers or low-achievers.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2011/10/25/nl-cheating-student-reaction-teachers-1025.html
A close examination of newly revised Student Assessment policies in a cross-section of school boards in Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ohio is most revealing. Most of the policies are like that of the Halifax Regional School Board (C.007 Program, 22.214.171.124), clearly separating the evaluation of student achievement from that of student behaviour. Indeed, many use the same wording when separating the two and virtually identical to that found in Damian Cooper’s book, Talk About Assessment. http://damiancooperassessment.com/talk.html In his more recent offering, Redefining Fair, he goes even further in trying to dispel “outdated beliefs regarding fairness” in so-called “mixed-ability classrooms.”
What’s really happening in the strange world of student assessment? A small band of learning assessment experts, led by Damian Cooper and one of his mentors, Scarborough consultant Ken O’Connor, The Grade Doctor, exert a tremendous influence over school administrators and consultants with little or no background in testing or evaluation. “First and foremost,” O’Connor preaches, ” accuracy requires that behaviours and attitudes be separated from achievement, so that grades are pure measures of achievement.” According to this iron dictum, late penalties, absence, academic dishonesty, or even bonus marks have no place in determining student grades. And furthermore, awarding percentage marks is unacceptable because “no one can accurately describe 101 levels” of proficiency. http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol5/503-newvoices.aspx
Student assessment experts like Damian Cooper pop up everywhere because most school boards are desperate to improve their idiosyncratic, autonomous, teacher-driven student evaluation practices. Over the 2009-10 school year, Cooper was hired to give “Tools for Assessment” Workshops from one end of the country to another, including prominent recorded talks in Vancouver, Barrie,ON, and Sackville, NB. From July 5 to 8, 2010, he was the sole presenter a a two-day intensive Workshop, entitled “Fostering Assessment Literacy in Our Schools” sponsored by the CMEC -Atlantic section, and funded by NB Education and all four teachers unions.
How were Damian Cooper’s assessment theories seeded in the Maritimes? Look no further than the the Assessment Summit, held in late August 2009, at Halifax’s World Trade and Convention Centre. Close to 600 school officials and teachers attended the extravaganza headlined by Damian Cooper, Ken O’Connor, and Rick Stiggins, head of Educational Testing Service (ETS) Assessment from Portland, Oregon.
A Media Advisory issued by the NSTU left no doubt about the actual purpose of the education Summit. ” These most distinguished assessment experts,” the SSRSB’s Sue Taylor-Foley stated,” will illustrate the fundamental purpose of assessment is not to rate, rank, and sort students, but rather to provide meaningful feedback that leads to improved student learning.” The core theme, she emphasized, was to promote “Common Assessment” across schools in Nova Scotia and beyond. http://www.nstu.ca/images/pklot/MA_NSELC09.pdf
Since the Newfoundland cheating policy change hit the news, an eerie silence has descended upon Student Assessment Divisions in most Canadian school boards. Superintendent Rice and NLSBA Executive Director Brian Shortall, supported by Cooper, have been fending off a wave of vocal opposition, leveled by irate parents, taxpayers, teachers and high school students. Over 75% of all respondents to a CBC News St. John’s poll were adamantly opposed to “pardoning” student cheaters. On the CBC Radio Maritime Magazine show (October 29), “Mind the Gap,” Shortall offered a rather feeble defense of the change and received some tacit support from NB Superintendent Karen Branscombe (NB District 2, Moncton).
Not every Canadian school board has given up on curbing student cheating and plagiarism. The Toronto and District School Board policy on “Academic Honesty” stands out as a prime example. “Cheating and plagiarism will not be condoned,” the TDSB policy (PR613) proclaims. What happens if a student violates that policy? “A mark of zero may be awarded for the assignment in question and a repeated pattern of academic dishonesty may result in an escalating severity of consequences.”
Giving student cheaters a second chance is symptomatic of profound changes now underway in student assessment policy. Where is the educational research to support the student evaluation theories being espoused by Damian Cooper and his cohorts? Does separating completely student achievement from student behaviour in the evaluation process make any real sense — and what are the likely consequences? Should student cheaters be pardoned in our schools? Taking the larger view, is all of this threatening to produce what might be called a “do-over” generation?