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It's time kids got dose of reality

Students must suffer consequences for tardiness: minister

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No docked marks for turning in a school assignment late?

Maybe not for much longer, kids.

"Those are life skills -- we expect papers to be handed in on time," Education Minister Nancy Allan said Wednesday.

Allan said the province will soon have serious talks with teachers and superintendents to look at a 13-year-old policy that tells schools they shouldn't dock marks for late assignments, attitude, or tardiness.

It was former Tory education minister Linda McIntosh who introduced the guidelines, Allan said. McIntosh wanted marks to reflect how well students knew the material, not whether they'd handed it in on time, or written a makeup test, or been consistently late for class.

Allan acknowledged her NDP predecessor, Peter Bjornson, reinforced those guidelines in a letter to school divisions last June.

"That's correct, Peter did, minister Bjornson did, absolutely," said Allan.

But that was then, this is now, and Allan certainly has heard a lot of reaction from Manitobans who want students to get used to the demands of the real world they'll enter after graduation.

"We live in a world" in which students will have employers who expect them to be on time and meet deadlines, she said. "We've had a look at it -- it's an old policy. We believe we need to provide some clarity around that."

Allan said she's aware the Manitoba Teachers' Society will receive a report later this month on teacher workload -- partly driven by the extra time teachers take to mark assignments that are weeks overdue, or to create a make-up test or new assignments for students who'd failed or never even got around to doing an assignment.

"We'll be working in partnership with them. The big picture is, how do we support students?" Allan said.

Allan said she's not prepared to say how finely detailed any government policy or directive would be, such as specifying how many marks come off each day or week for late assignments.

The minister also said a review of school attendance, and strategies to track and reduce absence, is getting back on track after being sidetracked by the need to deal with H1N1 in the fall.

On the other hand, said Allan, while the province is looking at the so-called no-fail or social promotion approaches in many school divisions, don't expect any provincial action soon.

No-fail sees students remain with their social group and advance regardless of marks. There is no carved-in-stone provincial policy.

No-fail and social promotion have been getting lumped in with the "accurate grading issue" of late assignments, she said: "They complement one another, but they're quite different."

Tory education critic Cliff Cullen (Turtle Mountain) said it's time Allan made the government's position clear on no-fail and other grading and promotion issues.

"It's a mixed bag out there," Cullen said. "She wouldn't give us a date of when this was going to happen, or how it's to roll out."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 6, 2010 A3

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