So, Saskatoon high schools think plagiarism is okay?

What next? Just when you think you have heard it all, the CBC is reporting today that Saskatoon’s high schools will not be treating plagiarism as cheating or taking marks off for handing in work late or incomplete  (H/T Paul). Why? Because they are supposedly “behaviours” and not learning.

Do these people have any idea how wrong that view is? As a learning specialist I can tell you that BOTH cognition and behavioural changes are about learning. I mean, think about learning to drive a car. Should we allow new drivers to have a licence as long as they get a good mark on the preliminary written and visual tests, since the practical driving part of the test is only looking at behaviour?  

Yes, no fail-policies are truly that narrowly focused and irresponsible! It’s like education ministries in Canada think learning stops at high school graduation.  For example, the CBC item states:

“Some educational experts are critical of the move — an apparent first for Saskatchewan — saying it creates an uneven playing field for students in other parts of the province. But the Saskatoon Public School Board, administrators of the school division and some teachers say the new report cards encourage learning by removing penalties for poor behaviour.

English teacher Katie Kehrig said it’s taken her 30 years of teaching to realize the benefits of separating academic marks from behaviour evaluations. ‘I don’t give late marks, or deduct marks if students are late,’ Kehrig said in support of the new evaluation method. ‘I don’t give bonus marks. I don’t have participation marks. Those are behaviours. As long as a student hands in an assignment at some point, no marks are docked. The same applies to students caught plagiarizing.'”

Have these people lost all sense of reality? Truly, they must have because surely they must know that post-secondary institutions will not put up with this nonsense. As a former university teacher, I can tell you that most professors will not split hairs about what is learning versus what are behaviours. 

I mean, an assignment that is due on a certain day is due on that day, unless there is proof there was an extreme family or health emergency. However, barring that type of emergency, marks will be taken off if handed in late or incomplete. Moreover, a student caught plagiarizing will not only fail the assignment and the course, but will be thrown out of the university. Plus, they will forever have a note on their transcript that they cheated. 

In other words, you can’t separate “behaviours” from learning. It’s all about learning.  

  • It’s learning right from wrong.
  • It’s learning about personal responsibility.
  • It’s learning that there can be negative consequences to what we do or don’t do.
  • It’s learning why it is important to get work done on time — because employers will expect that.
  • It’s learning that claiming someone else’s work as your own is not only cheating but intellectual theft.
  • It’s learning that not handing work in on time is failing at a task.
  • It’s about learning “how to work” and what it will be like to go to college or university and what an employer will expect.

So, the school districts and teachers in Saskachewan, or anywhere else in Canada for that matter, who are defending this “no-fail” type of policy (see my archive on similar Ontario policies) are failing in their jobs as educators because, in their misplaced zeal to graduate more students, they are NOT preparing them for life beyond high school.

7 thoughts on “So, Saskatoon high schools think plagiarism is okay?

  1. You have to protect these kids self esteem. Failure is not an option.
    Just wait until the real life reality check hits after high school.
    Like a ton of bricks. 😉


  2. I write as an educator for 43 years and you are so wrong on this issue I don’t know where to start. It is you not “these people” who have lost all sense of reality it is you. Have you not paid attention to any of the research on motivation, how we learn and assessment for the last twenty years.? Please read Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” where he says there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business and schools do – the mismatch is using extrinsic motivation (punishments and rewards) instead of promoting intrinsic motivation (autonomy, mastery and purpose.)


  3. Ken — We are talking about intellectual theft here, not motivation or mastery. I was a university teacher as well as regular teacher and this issue has nothing to do with punishment and reward or anything in Daniel Pink’s book. Nothing.

    I always gave students a chance to redo work, or do a “make-up” for better marks and mastery. That is not what we are talking about when we are talking about plagiarism. Sorry, but business schools don’t allowing cheating either.

    As well as a retired teacher, I am also a professional writer and I would not appreciate someone claiming my work as their own. Simply teach kids how to attribute sources and it is called scholarship. Do not teach them attribution, or allow them to use other people’s ideas and words, and it is theft.

    Clearly, you could not have read everything I wrote because, like you, I write as an educator with 40 years experience in Ontario. And, the Doug who also responded to this thread, is an Ontario retired secondary teacher and former union consultant as well — and very left wing in his political views I might add. Perhaps he can respond to your comment as well.


  4. We absolutely are talking about motivation and the educative roles that schools should have. If you think that students should receive mark penalties or zeros for late work or plagiarism you are saying that you believe in punishment (extrinsic motivation) not support. Please don’t misunderstand me – plagiarism is a reprehensible behaviour and if students plagiarize there must be consequences but the consequences should be behavioural consequences (as there are for other inappropriate behaviours like theft and assault) and the assessment consequence is ‘do it again honestly.’ Thus what I advocate is a double consequence that clearly sends the message that any form of academic dishonesty is an unacceptable behaviour.


  5. Having just reread what you wrote I must comment on you labelling policies that do not allow mark penalties for behaviours as ‘no fail’ policies. They absolutely are NOT ‘no fail’ policies; in fact they are hard not soft because the basic idea is that students must provide sufficient evidence of their achievement for teachers to make the judgements they have to make and grades will not be inflated or deflated by behaviours. There is no justification for the use of zeros as they are mathematically incorrect and motivationally devastating. Giving a student a zero is not an F it is a K and I am fairly sure that you would not approve of students receiving a K as a grade. Please consider this quote from Rick Wormeli. a highly regarded middle school educator, author and consultant –

    “A zero has an undeserved and devastating influence, so much so that no matter what the student does, the grade distorts the final grade as a true indicator of mastery. Mathematically and ethically this is unacceptable.”


  6. Well Ken, thanks for stopping by. But with respect, I disagree with you about what is or is not a “no-fail” policy. If any student is helped to succeed by doing make up work or whatever, that is not what I am talking about. In Ontario, students are allowed to pass courses in high school even if they haven’t done the work. That only rewards laziness and disrespect for the rules of writing. They are also allowed to graduate. That is no-fail in order to improve graduation statistics. The students learn nothing but how to do the least amount of work to succeed.

    This post, however, is in reaction to what I view as a government policy in Saskatchewan that apparently minimizes plagiarism, which is far more serious than cheating. If a student plagiarizes once, I can see them being able to redo the assignment the right way. But, not twice if that should ever happen. So, the main issue in this post was the fact that it apparently has become an acceptable policy in Saskatchewan to overlook the seriousness of such an offense. If you can provide links that that is not true, I will amend my post. If, on the other hand, it is allowed without at least redoing the assignment, then I won’t.

    At the end of the day, however, we’ll likely just have to agree to disagree. Personally, I have only once given a student a zero and always did what I could to help students succeed. The one zero was when I caught an undergraduate student plagiarizing — basically handing in an essay that another student had handed in the semester before — word for work — and I just happened to mark both myself, so remembered it. I had to report it to the Registrar’s Office, the student was put on probation and I was told I had to give them a zero for their transcript, even though they had completed other assignments acceptable. So, the Wormeli quote means nothing in that situation, which is the only situation I am talking about in this thread.

    So, please don’t go all over the map on this. You need to separate the notion of zeros from plagiarism because universities do not give second chances when it comes to that, so high schools need to prepare students for that possibility. Cheating is cheating and is a conscious and cognitive choice someone makes. The outward behaviour is when they actually do it. So, no matter what content or skills they master, if there are no consequences, they also learned how to be dishonest.

    I wrote a textbook entitled “Learning Strategies for Learning Disabilities,” so I can hardly be accused of not wanting students to succeed.

    By the way, I have visited your website and it looks very professional and I wish you only the best.

    I am now closing down for the evening and will be putting comments on full moderation.


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