Assessment: The Problem with Penalties

The practice of using penalties as a way to get students to do their work or punish them when they don’t is something that has been debated both way in many of my classes. Do we give late marks? Should we assign zeros? Should we assign homework and how do we assess it? These questions deserve consideration and I know people have a lot to say either way. Teachers and non-teachers seem to take an interest and voice opinions on this subject.

Myron Dueck wrote an interesting article on the problems he sees with penalties and I find myself agreeing with his points. Dueck devises what he calls “the CARE guidelines” for penalties to positively influence behaviour (44). CARE stands for care about penalty, aim aligned to penalty, reduction of undesirable behaviour, and empowerment through informed decision making. Because these guidelines aren’t met when grading homework or using punishment to encourage effort, Dueck says that traditional penalties aren’t effective.

An important part of why I agree that grading homework isn’t good assessment, is because homework is the practice and so summative evaluation of it doesn’t give students the ability to show their improvement fairly. It can also be a practice that perpetuates inequality based on the socio-economic status and home life of students. Not all students have home environments that allow them to do their best work, so it is not particularly effective to grade homework.

It also becomes clear that punishment doesn’t encourage increased effort or student empowerment. Students don’t need to be punished when they don’t do their work or don’t try their best. They need more intrinsic motivations to make them want to do the work. They need to have their personal interests drawn into their studies. Students need to be responsible for and included in their learning. We need to understand what makes students not want to do their work and find ways to engage them, not push them away.

Dueck, Myron. “The Problem with Penalties.” Educational Leadership March 2014: 44-49. Print.


Equity in Education


In the past week, I listened to a guest speaker, Tim Caleval, from the Ministry of Education and visited the First Nations Gallery in the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. I am now considering what each mean for equity in education and what my role is in the bigger picture of equity in Saskatchewan students’ education.

During the presentation I became aware of some pretty startling statistics. I learned that about 84% of white students in Saskatchewan will graduate from the K-12 system. While, only 50% of aboriginal students will. If ever privilege in our province was questioned, these numbers show that traditional education system sets some student up for success and others for failure based on race.

I believe education is a right and a necessity and that a good education can truly make the difference. So, the kind of divide these statistics demonstrate is terribly troubling. We have to be ready to see the issues and our own privilege. The traditional model and ideologies that made up my education allowed me to be successful in the system. Additionally, I could see myself reflected in what I learned about. I was able to build relationships with my teachers and never question their viewpoint of me based on race.

I found it horribly upsetting to learn of some of the quote from Maori students in New Zealand before their education reforms. One student had said that their school wasn’t too bad because only a few teachers made racist comments. Whether or not such racist comments are knowingly or unknowingly (ex. unquestioned stereotypes) made by teachers in Saskatchewan, the divide in graduation rates demonstrates the institutional racism that exists. The changes that happened in New Zealand and the reforms that teachers in Saskatchewan will be a part of make me hopeful.

On another note, visiting the museum gave me a real world context in the mindset shift that needs to occur. While the building and displays are engaging, and the topical information was interesting, there are important ideas that are left out and deep knowledge left for learners to access. The museum did not connect history to contemporary issues and provided little to no information on pivotal historical events, such as the treaties and residential schools. The parts of Canadian history that are often left out of education are echoed in the museum. While the museum could be a good starting or ending point in our students education, it just isn’t enough.

Discussing historical events and contemporary issues are both important in treaty education. It is necessary to understand both as students and educators. The other piece is in relationship building, having high expectations for all students (and making that clear), and being culturally responsive. As a preservice teacher dedicated to social justice, I know how important it is for me to instill these ideas in my teaching. It is one thing to be discomforted by injustice and another to be a part of making changes to create equity in education.