Enough with the Late Penalties!

Here is my issue with Late Penalties being applied to student work.  If we are going to reduce an entire course worth of work down to one symbol for the purpose of reporting, should we not at the very least ensure that the grade is accurate?  Late Penalties lead to inaccuracy, which leads to deflated grades, which distorts the students’ achievement; their true ability to meet the intended learning outcomes.  In most jurisdictions (if not all) grades are supposed to reflect the student’s ability to meet the intended learning outcomes of the course they are enrolled in. In my 20 years I have never seen a curriculum guide that had “handing in work on time” as a learning intention.  It’s possible that one exists, I’ve just never seen it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for students meeting set deadlines. It is obviously a great habit to develop that will serve students well as they make the transition to adulthood.  I also believe in holding students accountable for deadlines, I just never applied a late penalty.  Like “0”, I was the late penalty guy early in my career; “10% per day” was my middle name. Over the years I saw the late penalty as a waste of time. I’d rather support the student than penalize them.  10% is a nice round number and that’s likely the reason we’ve chosen it through the decades as it keeps the math easy! I am not aware of any educational research that proclaims “Late Penalties” as an effective practice…are you? The threat of a penalty is supposed to motivate students into meeting the deadline. Clearly that threat isn’t working as that threat has existed for decades and yet students are still late with assignments.

Here is my position: Students should be graded on the quality of their work (their ability to meet the desired learning targets) rather than how punctual the assignment is.      Here’s why:

Some students predictably struggle with deadlines. Once a due date has been given, most teachers can predict which students will be on-time and which students will be late. We know that most students will meet the deadlines.  If most don’t, then there is likely a flaw in the assignment.  The few that struggle with deadlines need support, not penalties.  The other aspect is that we already know (to a certain degree) who is going to be late.  Think about that…we can predict they’ll be late, but do we act to ensure the learning and/or assignment is on track?  Most students like deadlines and the organization and pacing they provide.

Quality work should trump timeliness. Would you rather a student hand-in high quality work late or poor quality work on-time? Now I know that in an ideal world every student would complete all assignments correctly and hand them in on time, but I choose quality and I think you would too.  We have spent far too much time in education focusing on the things that sit on the periphery of learning.  Meeting a deadline is a good thing – even a great thing – but it doesn’t have anything to do with how much Math or Social Studies you understand!

The flood is a myth! No, not that flood.  The flood of assignments at the end of the year that you think you are going to get; it won’t happen, at least that wasn’t my experience.  In fact, in every school I’ve worked in where teachers eliminated their late penalties they did not experience the flood. As I said above, most students like deadlines and not having a late penalty doesn’t mean you don’t set deadlines and act when they are not met; just don’t distort their grade by artificially lowering it.

We don’t ‘add’ for early. When I’ve asked teachers who have late penalties why they don’t add 10% per day for early assignments they usually say something like, “I couldn’t do that.  That would inflate their grade and wouldn’t be accurate.” I think they’ve just answered their own question.  The exact same logic as to why adding-for-early is not appropriate applies to late penalties; the logic of inaccuracy.

Behavior & Learning must be kept separate. Inaccuracy comes when we start to include student attributes into reporting.  Not handing in work on time has nothing to do with what they know; it reflects what they haven’t done.

Ken O’Connor writes:

The punitive nature of the penalty is a powerful disincentive for students to complete any work.” 

If I’m a marginal student who barely passes most assignments, why would I even bother doing the work if I’m 3 or 4 days late?   I vote for eliminating the penalty altogether, but here are some other suggestions if you insist on keeping your late penalty.  After all, I can’t make you change.

  • Provide a DUE DATE WINDOW and allow your students to manage their time. Provide a window of a few days or an entire week.  Then, after the window closes consider them late.
  • Spend MORE TIME IN PREPARATION making sure every student is clear on what to do and how to do it.  Students might need exemplars or deeper explanations before they are ready.
  • Provide EXTRA SUPPORT AHEAD OF TIME.  We know some students struggle with deadlines and it would be irresponsible as a teacher to not act upon that knowledge before it’s too late.

Now, if all of that doesn’t work for you, then here is a late penalty I could support; I don’t like it, but I could support it. 1% per day! If you are like most teachers I’ve suggested this to you will have one of two reactions.  One reaction is that, “it’s hardly worth the effort so why bother.” EXACTLY! The other reaction is, “that’s not tough enough!”

The second reaction usually reveals the real motive behind the penalty; that for students to comply with deadlines we need to toughen up on them.  Just like with “0”, the punishment paradigm will never produce the academic epiphany.  Making school less pleasant through artificial penalties has never inspired students to exceed expectations.

I set deadlines, but I negotiated deadlines if students came in advance. I held students responsible for deadlines and reacted NOW if a deadline wasn’t met. I contacted parents if deadlines were consistently being missed or avoided, but I DIDN’T PENALIZE STUDENTS in the GRADE BOOK! I accepted late work, but I never got the flood at the end of the year!

So…enough with the late penalties already and let’s put our focus back on learning!

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177 thoughts on “Enough with the Late Penalties!

  1. You raise some very interesting points. In an ideal world every student would get their assignment in on time, but that is not the case. As you articulated, there are often reasons that the assignment comes in late and a conversation usually clears things up. For the students who chronically hand in assignments late there are underlying issues that need to be addressed, hopefully with parental support. How many of us at some point had to speak with their teacher and get an extension?

    With all this being said, there is a mark for late work- it is called work habits, G, S, N. The letter grade is supposed to reflect the child’s knowledge and understanding of the subject, not their ability to time manage, their desire to complete assignments nor their willingness to ask for support. There is a reason why the two are kept separate. Like you said, a struggling student will just give up if they know they are going to be handing in the assignment late and there are stiff penalties.

    Society to a certain degree has determined that letter grades are far more important and work habits are not as valued as they should be. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate those priorities, but the works habits are clearly articulated for those interested in looking.

    • Thanks for your comments, Remi. I always wanted students to meet deadlines with quality work, but that, as you’ve pointed out, doesn’t always happen. The work habit is exactly where being late should be addressed. I agree, we have to raise the profile and priority of work habits. I think we are partly to blame as I’m not sure we collectively spend as much time thinking about the WH as we do the grades (knowing that many individuals do). Late penalties are punitive and I think they send the wrong message about what’s important. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. You make some powerful arguments. I can relate to your journey. When I began teaching in junior high five years ago, I was on the 10% a day bandwagon. Now, I have stopped making enforcing the late penalty and I actually have more assignments turned in on time. (I don’t know if it’s related, but it’s true.) I also have much less recordkeeping because I don’t have to keep track of each day it’s late. Good topic for discussion, and a good post to get the conversation going.
    Denise

    • Thanks Denise. Keeping track was an issue for me too back in the day. I bet there is a connection to more work/no penalty. By focusing on learning your students are likely more prepared to complete the work/learn, etc. I think these conversations are vital…I’m glad I could contribute to the conversation. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. Tom, nice post on a very two-sided topic. From numerous conversations, there are a lot of die-hards for both sides of the coin. You identified both and spoke to both, fairly, but also pointed out the real goals of education. I admit I was on the late penalty thing years ago but had the same thoughts you did and employ many of the changes you have. This entry is great to get educators thinking of the two schools of thought on a crash course.
    @bsoong

    • It’s a tough one. People on both sides believe very strongly on the issue. My bias is no penalty, however, if teachers insist on a penalty I think there are things that we can do to avoid the lateness (as I outlined in the post). Important discussions…my hope was that my post might open the door for some to begin. Thanks Bernie. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

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  5. A great follow-up from yesterday’s post on the great Zero Controversy. Full disclosure: I am still the 10% per day guy. Yet another one of my ruts that you are pulling into the light, forcing reflection on.

    Let me run with my “old-school” habits for a moment, though. Using a potential real-world example, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how this could translate back to the classroom moments you mention above.

    Let’s say I work for a high-powered marketing firm. I’ve been hired recently, and I am starting to feel teh pressures of the job. A big deadline is approaching – 5 pm today – and I’m not ready. 5:01 – I didn’t send the file. Crap.

    Next morning, I walk into my boss’ office…

    Tom, here’s my “devils-advocate” question for you: what does the boss say? Do I get a “don’t worry about it, just make sure you meet the next deadline,” or do I get the “you just lost the firm a multi-million dollar contract. You’re fired!”

    In my heart, I hear and believe what you are saying about the late penalty not assessing what the student learned. In my head, though, I hear the boss placing the pink sip on my desk.

    Is there a connection between these two examples? And, if so, how can we best rectify the issue so as to provide a more authentic experience for our students?

    Thanks for getting my brain all riled again! Can’t wait for the next post…

    • Thanks Tony…very tough questions. Here’s what I might say. First, I think we grow into expectations and responsibility. There is a lot of space between being 15 and having a multi-million dollar contract in my hands. My boss would either KNOW I was able to handle it or would have set softdeadlines to check in with me if I was over my head. I think would have proved my trustworthiness over time through smaller projects. You probably would get fired, however, you’d probably be 30, 35, 40….not 15. We MAKE them do Math; you CHOSE to work for the company. The students don’t have a mortgage, family, debt, riding on the job…I could go on. Think about the maturity difference in most of us between HS grad and college…for me it was huge!

      To be clear…the onlydifference between what I suggest and most others is I kept it out of the gradebook…that’s it. The last paragraph is what I did. I was all over deadlines…intervening, supporting, coaching…i just didn’t penalize the grade; I addressed it with the work habit…especially if it was frequent. I think where I can be misunderstood on this issue is when I say no penalty people take that as no accountability…couldn’t be farther from the truth. I just think the penalty is punitive and I’m not into that. It distorts the grade and miscommunicates to parents how their children are doing. For me, accuracy matters so i want the grade to reflect what they know, not what they haven’t done.

      I hope that helps. Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

      • I agree whole-heartedly.
        I just had a conversation with someone about this exact topic. People make the dead line at work analogy a lot. It really isn’t exactly the same. While school is preparing students for the real world, they aren’t actually in the real world just yet,and school is their training ground where they can make mistakes and learn.Where we can identify areas that need improvement.
        Giving a zero or a mark deduction, is punitive and only serves to gratify the teacher, like a parent who slaps a child in frustration. Giving a zero or deduction is not going to suddenly help someone with time management or organizational skills. Marks are not always motivators for students either. Also, like you said it skews the measurement of the task objective, which is what do they know about a particular topic.
        Parents who claim it is unfair to the other children who do hand their work in on time, should mind their own business and not be comparing their child to anyone else.If a student had difficulty reading and took longer to complete a reading assignment, would you deduct marks? No, you would do what you could to help them.
        Usually, students who hand in late assignments struggle with organization and time management. They also may struggle with the subject matter. It is an opportunity for the teacher to help the student improve their learning skills to be accountable and successful down the road.
        I also agree that the comparison to the workplace is not a direct one. Maturity is a major factor, as well as the nature of the job. Also, one is to assume, that people will pursue careers in areas in which they excel and therefore may be less inclined to struggle with completing work in a timely fashion. For example, handing in a history essay versus completing technical blueprints for a given design in the workplace.

      • Thanks Tom for your viewpoint on the subject, which is very valuable, and provides an interesting insight.

        However, as an instructor at the community college level, I have found myself utilizing “late penalties” with a web-based software for completing math assignments, especially if given 7-10 days to complete. However, I have only implemented the penalty (10%) for questions that were incomplete, and not the entire assignment, with a cut-off date on the day of the exam (“drop dead” date). Since students are allowed to rework the same problem until it’s correct, the students can still obtain 90-100% on an assignment, even if late. However, if a student approaches me and requests a late submission, I usually grant it without any penalties, since it’s usually a reflection of a life event, and not necessarily his/her chronic behavior.

        Since I have been in the workforce for 18 years before teaching, completing projects early and/or on-time was considered “doing my job”, whereas deadlines can sometimes be extended, if requested beforehand, with reasonable justification. I even had one job where “bonuses” were rewarded to all employees (team effort), based on numerous job-related factors, including meeting customer deadlines with a qualitative product. However, to ignore a deadline was very detrimental, no matter how qualitative the completed work was (my knowledge and capability), as far as job evaluations go, or even in keeping a job. I have also seen contracts from contractors that included monetary penalties for not completing a major installation on time.

        No different here, since most of the student’s scores on an exam can be correlated to his/her completed assignments (math requires practice). Overall, I see the small penalties as a way to encourage students, or even the entire class, to start a discussion with me, if they are struggling on a particular assignment. I have never received a complaint from a student on this, since most believe it’s fair to those who completed the assignments on time, and most see it as a challenge to stay on top of the schedule. To others, it served as a warning that they are not keeping up with the material. To those who don’t take the deadlines seriously, it wouldn’t have mattered either way.

        I agree with your viewpoint, but I have found that relaxing some rules, even at the high-school level, doesn’t prepare a student adequately, as far as study habits or work habits for the next transition in his/her life. The class in high-school that best prepared me for the college level, was my history class in junior year, which was presented a in similar format as to that in college at the time, including lectures in an auditorium.

        As a graduate student, I took the one day penalty gladly, since it gave me additional time to investigate and research the assignment more, versus taking a “zero” or a lower score for incomplete conclusions to the assigned problems while juggling a full-time job as a single mother. The penalty also gave me an incentive to not cause further delays in completing my assignment.

        Another perspective – I have someone close to me who struggles with ADHD and in completing assignments on time; but as a college student, he actually prefers the enforced deadlines, which gave him the incentive to keep a routine schedule in those classes. Otherwise, if he was given until the end of the semester or the day of the exam to complete, he usually came up short. So even if there was a penalty given, it was still much better than running out of time at the end to complete them at all.

        Instead of thinking of it as a penalty, maybe it should be considered as a challenge or as an incentive for the student to complete the work on time, or even as a team effort to reach that goal (such as a 90% completion rate for the entire class). Of course, there are exceptions to the rule from time to time (life happens). Thanks for the article!

  6. We’ve separated our marks into “approaches to learning” and “summative” strands, which means that students can get penalized in their “approaches to learning” (or coachability) mark, but not their summative mark.

    I also make sure that for a student who is habitually late on a number of assignments I would involve their parents, send them to study hall, or some other consequence related to their behaviour, but not their (summative) mark.

    Their mark is a carrot we hold in front of students. When you penalize students by reducing their mark, you are essentially giving them a smaller carrot. For some students, they will work less hard because they feel like either they don’t deserve such a nice carrot (grade) or that the carrot (grade) you’ve given them is good enough.

    I still have students not handing in assignments on time, but at least I feel like I can do something about it rather than ending the story with a lower mark.

    • Thanks David. Agree with it all. I love the separation, involving parents, study hall, etc. It doesn’t prevent it all, but at least we are not giving them an excuse to blame us…”you lowered my grade, not me.” Some students will be late, but penalizing them is just too easy. Our job is to do something about and not apply artificial punitive measures! I appreciate you taking the time to comment!

  7. Awesome post Tom, and I am on the exact same page as you (see my post from a couple of months ago–far less eloquent but on the same wavelength).

    http://thelearningnation.blogspot.com/2010/11/docking-student-paychecks.html

    In talking to colleagues around our district and around the province, it is encouraging to see that there is a move in this direction to get rid of one of the most toxic grading practices (to use Douglas Reeves’ term). However, we still have a long ways to go.

    If a student is handing things in late, I feel it is important to develop a relationship with that student so that we can actually understand WHY turning in work on time is an issue. As well, for our ‘promising learners’ who struggle with deadlines in general, the easiest thing is for them not to do the work at all. Marks do not motivate these students. But if they have a positive and meaningful relationship with their teacher and their class, they are much more likely to do the work.

    Thank you for reminding us that marks are not a management tool.

    • Thanks Cale. I will definitely check out your post. I think it’s ALL about the relationships and the messages we send with everything we do. Marks are not a motivator, especially for low achievers. We need more support, more inclusively, and more compassion. I think late penalties are about power and control which is so disconnected form what we now know about learning.

      Thanks for your comments Cale and your positive comments on Twitter!

  8. Thanks for the comments Tom, you bring up some insightful thoughts that have been a topic of conversation on our staff as we have batted around this issue in working to develop a school grading policy. While we have come to some agreement on certain aspects of grading, the whole issue of zeros has been a contested one. Many on our staff value the sense of protecting the student who takes the initiative to meet a deadline and feel that in many ways it is one way to teach a real life lesson by having a small penalty while still ensuring students get the work done. How has this conversation evolved on your staff?

    • My thoughts…we can’t assume that all students who miss deadlines lack initiative. Sure, some might. Others,however, didn’t really know what to do or didn’t understand the material. There are a lot of reasons. I think we have to dig deeper and find out why the deadline was missed. If it’s chronic, then we should intervene with more intensity before the deadline instead of waiting and then acting surprised that they are “late again.” For me it’s just the penalty. We continued to talk about responding quickly when a deadline is missed…parents, study hall, admin…just not penalty. My role was to support the staff in their attempts…if students blew off the teacher then i would support, call parents, etc. It’s all about creating new routines of response that don’t include a punitive distortion of achievement. Hold them accountable in every other way, except the penalty.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Scott!

  9. Brilliant!

    I’m a principal now, but I wrote this regarding when I was a teacher:
    “As a teacher, I don’t take any marks off for something coming in late. It is my job to make sure that students demonstrate their learning and meet the learning outcomes during the year. All time lines within the year are arbitrary (and usually teacher determined) and not a requirement worthy of penalty. Exceptions may be made where either Personal Planning or Goal Setting are part of the outcomes.”

    This post goes down as the best argument to banish the unjustifiable use of marks as a behavior management tool that I have ever seen… thank you!

    • Thanks David. Uh…I would like to invite you to comment on all of my posts!!!

      Seriously, thank-you for your kind words and feedback. I do recognize that it takes time for many of us (me included) to come to terms with what to do instead. Accountability, yes; Penalty, not for me.

      I like the “timelines are arbitrary” comment a lot.

      Thansk again!

  10. Well stated, but you are preaching to the converted here.

    I believe that being flexible, recognizing diverse learning needs, creating connections, creating a safe environment, meeting students where they are, and helping them move forward is the way to go. I’ve found that teaching students this way makes things like giving zeros, and penalties for late work unfathomable.

    “School” is not the real world. Where in the real world are you collected into peer groups (based on your age) and packed into a building to be taught a curriculum you’ve had little to no say in, and then assigned a grade? “School” is the last chance to be a child, not the first chance to be an adult.

    Keep spreading the word Tom!

    • Thanks Mark…unfathomable is how I feel too. Once you make the paradigm shift form “tasks” to “leaning” so much of what we’ve always done doesn’t make sense anymore. “Last chance to be a kid” is a great way to put it. We try to rush kids into adult-like experiences yet we don’t account for their relative immaturity and lack of life experience.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I know I will be quoting you on the last chance/first chance quote!

  11. As everyone has already mentioned, I too found the points made to be very relevant and thought provoking. As Mr. Celini wrote, I currently am a 10%/day guy too – but maybe not to the same extent. I provide a Due Date for students (when work is expected) and a Dead Date for students (after which students receive a penalty). This sounds similar to the “window” idea discussed in the body.

    The question I have is if a student submits work after graded work has been released to students, what’s to stop the late student from “being inspired” by the work (and comments) of another student?

    I completely agree that late penalties assess behaviour rather than understanding, but does copied work reflect understanding? For example, I am creating a poster identifying the parts of a cell and their functions. I complete my work on time while my friend does not. Since there is no consequence for my friend turning in his (or her) work late, he (or she) waits for the teacher to grade my work and then uses that to produce his (or her) own assignment. How fair is that to me? I put in the effort and my friend will have the opportunity to best me by taking advantage of my work and the feedback it received. My friend is not demonstrating a better understanding of the content than me, they’re identifying a flaw in the system – aren’t they? Is there something we can do to prevent this from happening – especially in an academically competitive environment?

    Thanks!

    • Thanks Brett. I think the biggest misunderstanding I have encountered over the years is when I say “no penalty” it is implied that there is “no consequence.” I see a huge difference. I want accurate grades; late penalties distort achievement so I can’t support them. However, there are immediate consequences to late work…natural consequences. I responded almost immediately…kept students in, supported them, figured out what it would take to help them get the assignment done. Most students would say, “Can I bring it tomorrow?” to which I’d say “of course.” For those that are chronic the penalty won’t fix the problem.

      I also think everyone should be ale to take the feedback from everyone and improve upon their learning…isn’t that what learning is about. We collectively put to much emphasis on “when” students learn as opposed to “if” or “how much.” (my opinion). The focus on “learning” makes some of our preconceived ideas about school irrelevant.

      Thansk for your comments!

  12. Such a clear and moving statement of the flaws in the penalites system, Tom!
    This is a discussion I have engaged in with colleagues from the day I entered teaching. I have never believed in penalties for late work. Althought time is linear, it is probably the only thing that is. Sir Ken Robinson describes learning as organic and we all go through the journey at different rates and with a variety of supports required. Students do well if they can- and I would argue that when they aren’t doing well, it is our responsibility to get to the root of the reason they are not doing well. Ross Greene highlights the lagging skills that prevent students from meeting with success- and work habits and study skills certainly fall within the executive functioning and thinking skills areas.
    My goal as an educator is to ensure that all my students meet with success- which is defined by their parameters of success not necessarily mine. The skill set they present with is what we work with to build and grow using their strengths to support their areas of need. Fair is not everyone getting the same- it is everyone getting what they need.

    • Thanks Trish…very thoughtful. I totally agree, fair is not equal. What’s fair is everyone getting what they need, as you say. One of my colleagues often says, “between us and the kids, we’re the only ones being paid!” It is our job to get tot he root of the problem and try to help them breakthrough their challenges. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Trish!

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  14. Great post with a lot to discuss!

    From the teacher workload viewpoint, I don’t like the extra work of tracking late penalties. But I also don’t like the work of grading late assignments that trickle in. (As you’re aware, you get into a “rhythm” with a pile of grading but have to shift mental gears to grade the odd ones later.) I think you choose your poison with either of these, probably a wash. But I echo Brett’s question: Is late work “worth” on-time work if a student has access to what you’ve already graded? (quotes deliberate, help me out here)

    And what about higher ed? Freshmen? Sophomores? When, IF EVER, should students start acting like business people who might be fired for late work? Should faculty be the ones to instill this… quality in students?

    • It is frustrating when work trickles in, which is why I always reacted immediately. I wanted to make sure the work was finished in a timely manner. It’s also hard to comment on Higher Ed since every professor is different. I know of some (Tom Guskey) who allow corrections, second chances, etc. so we can’t really say, “when you get to college.” I don’t believe the “real-world” is as cut-throat as we think. I have worked with many teachers who have been late to work, had to leave early, turned in grades late, etc. without any penalty…no 10% pay deduction for that day. My challenge is that we have had late penalties or decades and yet students continue to turn in late…clearly it isn’t producing the desired result for all students.

      I know it’s not easy…we have to find the right balance, for sure. I just think the idea of penalizing kids in the grade book completely misses the mark.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  15. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Tom. What a refreshing read after a conversation with an online teacher who not only won’t allow students to post anything late, but then hides the discussion from them, taking away any chance for late-comers to at least benefit from the dialogue they missed. Sigh. She finds that hiding the posts keeps students from asking for partial points, and “arguing” with her that they should get some credit. I don’t know how to convince someone with these adamant beliefs to try something different…what’s the first step?

    May I come and teach in your school? :)

    • No disrespect intended to the other teacher, but I wonder sometimes why we convince ourselves that the measures we put in place are right when they can have such a detrimental impact on our relationships with the students we’re supposed inspire. We say learning matters, but our actions sometimes don’t match.

      The first step we took in our schools was to talk about the paradigm shift from tasks to learning. We also talked a lot about confidence. Teaching is about confidence, and when you get that you’ll see everything through a different lens. We began to ask ourselves about how each practice we employed impacted student confidence. For this post, we would ask, “How does applying late penalties contribute to building student confidence?” Of course, it doesn’t. When you ask that question you will see that there are a lot of things we “choose” to do that don’t make a lot of sense.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  16. Hey Tom!

    I spoke to you on Twitter about “fluffy” dates, but I’ve actually been thinking about this topic further since your post. Doesn’t your same rule apply to extra credit?

    You see, I’m not a big fan of extra credit. My teachers in my district give extra credit at the beginning of class for hand sanitizers and tissues. I feel this is rewarding a student for nothing related to academics and therefore inflating the grade. I can see how giving a student a task or above and beyond assignment may result in extra credit, but not for HS and T. I’ve never been brave enough to question anyone about this issue. I understand everyone had budget woes and this is one way to get the supplies necessary for the classroom. But by doing so, a student grade isn’t reflective of what they have learned.

    Penny for your thoughts?

    • Quite simply, I’m not a fan of extra credit for the same reason…accuracy. I think you are bang-on; extra credit “inflates” grades the same way late penalties “deflate” grades. Grades should, at the very least, be accurate and extra credit doesn’t contribute to that and the grade, as you say, is not reflective of what they have learned.

      I’m not trying to suck the fun out of school by sounding so clinical. I had a lot of fun with my students, but that doesn’t mean it increased their grades. Grading is grading; it serves a narrow purpose and we need to respect that purpose without distorting what we report, especially when we have to take an entire year’s worth of work and report it in 1 or 2 symbols. Accuracy and clarity are #1 for me…always.

      Thanks for your comments.

  17. Thanks for inspiring the blog post Tom. I just commented on my own post, but thought I’d share the link I provided here with you as well:

    “The appropriate penalty for missing work, is getting the work done” ~ Dr. Douglas Reeves

    Cheers!

  18. Thank you for this article I has given me even more to think about when it comes to how I grade. I teach Drafting which is very technical, and has a steep learning curve. I am at a college, and my main concern is preparing students for work.

    When I first started teaching I would accept late assignments until the last week. I noticed that students that fell behind would stay or fall further behind. This lead to them not being able to practice the new concepts and commands until a week after I had gone over them, and then they had an even harder time. I implemented a policy that gave them 2 weeks late to turn in an assignment, and deducted 15% per week. I felt that this would give them the sense of urgency to turn things in on time. I have justified the policy to myself and to students by saying that if they are 2 weeks behind they should work on the new assignments so that they could get more points, and that they would use the previous skills on the new assignments. This leads into your previous post about zeros. I think I was also trying to cut down the added work of grading late assignments like George had mentioned.

    Over the last several years I have been thinking about ways to make my grades more about their knowledge at the end, and not about tasks. I hadn’t even thought about addressing my late policy until I read your post.

    This blog is now on my daily reading list.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, James. the fact that you say my blog is your daily reading is very much appreciated. As I said in both posts, accuracy is compromised when grade include “other” attributes besides learning. Everyone I know who has made these changes hasn’t regretted it, however, it does take time to grow into the new routines so be patient with yourself, do what you feel you can do right away, and then move yourself along the continuum. Thansk again! Tom

  19. Tom, your constructive points are good (like providing a time window for a deadline instead of one specific time), but the premises are *really* off. Doesn’t anyone else smell the false logic, I’m wondering. I’m only finding fault in the following, nothing constructive here… but I must because of the *logical* absurdities I see.

    “I have never seen a curriculum guide that had ‘handing in work on time’ as a learning intention.” But then, no-one had “communicating to the instructor what you know” as a learning objective either…? So can we question the practice of evaluations? “Not cheating” has never been a learning goal, so we can ask why we have cheating policies in place…?

    “The threat of a penalty… isn’t working as that threat has existed for decades and yet students are still late with assignments.”
    People are threatened with parking tickets as an incentive to follow the rules but tickets still keep getting issued…? Sarcasm apart, this just isn’t a valid logical point! For the students who *do* turn in their work on time, the “threat” has worked. I’ve seen it quite often, and I suppose you have too: Students working late into the night on the day(s) just before the deadline. That’s proof of the “threat” working, or is it not?

    “Meeting a deadline is a good thing… but it doesn’t have anything to do with how much Math or Social Studies you understand!”

    But it does! “If I understand considerably less, I’ll take considerably longer to tackle the asignment.” That is the connection.
    Also: “If I understand math very well, the test will be a piece of cake, and I’ll be *able* to hand it in early.” How does an argument about this arise?

    “(A bonus for early submissions would) inflate their grade and wouldn’t be accurate… The exact same logic as to why adding-for-early is not appropriate applies to late penalties…”

    Early vs. late is “You can do it” versus “You can’t do it.” If you turn it in on time, OR three days early, it comes to the same: “Yes, you could do it.” No extra points there. If you turn it in late, it comes to “No, you couldn’t do it.” So you lose points. What could be simpler?

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment; for obvious reasons I don’t agree. Late penalties distort the accuracy of grades. That’s it for me. I’m not into punishing kids in the gradebook…not my thing and never really saw the desired results back when I used to do it. If that’s what you do, then I’m sure you can construct a justification for it and I’m sure I can’t convince you otherwise. Learning is more important to me. Penalities, from where I sit, are about exerting power.

  20. That idea, David, about asserting power thru penalties, is an unfortunate reality. A good number of instructors I’ve been under (and teachers I’ve worked with) speak about penalties as though it were their privilege and the student’s loss.

    Penalties have worked for me (as learner and as instructor); the reasons David Truss mentions on his blog are a good summary. Instructors need to guard against it becoming an attitude/power thing!

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  22. I need Help!!!!

    Tom, I completely agree but how can I get this accross to my son’s teacher. He is taking a high school biology course in 8th grade. He is an exemplary student who received A’s in the first two school semesters and even an A on the midterm. This last quarter he had three assignments averaging 99.6 then the class did an assignment that was graded in class and he got a 97% the teacher did not collect till 7 days later. My son had left it at home. Although there was proof the assignment was done on time, she still gave him two zeros. Those two zeros brought his GPA down to 59.6 F+. The teacher refuses to compromise, I even suggested giving him half credit with a detention. The principal was no help. The district says UFT contract allows her to set her own class rules. What can I do to help my son?

    • Hi Louisa – Thanks for commenting. Not knowing the specifics of your son’s situation makes it difficult to give specific solutions to a hypothetical situation, however, here are some thoughts.

      Somewhere there must be a district or state policy that says that a student’s letter grades are to reflect his/her ability to meet the leanring outcomes of the course they are enrolled in. I suppose that if the curriculum doesn’t have penalties and punctuality as a learning outcome you could challenge the validity of the grade. What the teacher did, assuming it is as you describe, in my opinion is ridiculous, mean-spirited, and unethical. I would want to know what her motive was; what is it she thinks she is accomplishing by grading that way. If she says to teach him a lesson then I would tell her that the lesson wasn’t learned and that her goal fell short. What he HAS learned is that his teacher is unreasonable in taking a stand on something completely unrelated to your son’s learning. You will/can obviously say these things in the right way given the context and relationship you have. It would be counter-productive for you to become like herin an attempt to rectify the situation. The contract may say what you’ve said, but that doesn’t mean she can do WHATEVER she wants…check state policy, teacher code of ethics, appeal to the district level…whatever you need to do. Again, my disclaimer is I don’t know where you are and what the other side of the story is, however, if it were me I wouldn’t stop until the teacher realized that power and control over children…even teenagers….is exactly the WRONG reason why someone should get into education! Good luck!

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  26. Hi Tom. This is a topic I think about a lot, and I have written a post responding to your thoughts here:

    http://siobhancurious.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/late-penalties/

    I have not read all the comments here, but I was struck by your description of consequences (vs. grades): “I kept students in, supported them, figured out what it would take to help them get the assignment done.” In your post you also mention contacting parents.

    As a college teacher, I can’t keep students in. I can’t contact their parents. I see them for only four hours a week (if they show up for class). The same principles you outline here apply to my students’ learning, but I rarely have the relationship with them that a primary/secondary teacher could have. Do you have suggestions for what kind of “support” I can offer my students instead of penalizing them?

  27. when a child gives in homework late and it is accepted by the teacher with no penalties isn’t that in a way unethical and unfair to the other student that did work to hand it in on time? what do you think would be a good argument against the argument that its unethical to accept late homework because it is not fair to the other students? and that if they knew that the teacher accepted it late they may see a laxity in the teacher and think that they can take advantage in the future.

    • Thanks for commenting. From my perspective, the “unethical” and “unfair” argument makes two erroneous assumptions: 1) that all students can/should achieve the desired learning at exactly the same time and (2) that school is about comparing one student to another, and (3) that the students who miss deadlines didn’t try hard enough. I also know the false assumption many make is that when I write “no penalties” I mean “no deadlines” which is completely false. I set deadlines, held students responsible for deadlines, followed-up with them if deadlines were missed in a timely manner…I just didn’t penalize them because I didn’t want to compromise the accuracy of their grade. You can say a lot of things, but the one thing no one can claim is that their grades are “accurate” if they are applying a penalty (or a zero for that matter) to work that isn’t on time.

      When I eliminated the penalty from my own classroom, not much changed. The students who typically handed things in on time still did; the students who I knew struggled with deadlines still did. The penalty, in essence, had very little effect on them. I can’t promise you won’t have a student who will try to take advantage of the policy, however, they can only take advantage if you let them…hold them accountable to the deadline. My students were overwhelming positive and productive in response to the changes I made. Why would a struggling student complete any work after 4 or 5 days? If they barely pass with full credit, losing 40%-50% would prove to be a powerful disincentive to completing the work…they will end up with the same grade/score whether they do it or not.

      In the end, I decided that threatening penalties was not the kind of teacher I wanted to be. I wanted to focus on learning and report accurate progress toward the intended learning goals.

    • So true! I don’t know about a record, but I’m still surprised that it is still being read and commented on. Thanks for sharing the post with others and thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree…undergrads could and should be a great resource in terms of “current thinking” of our students…they have the most recent experience.

      Tom

  28. I have a question: do you “announce” that there are no deadlines to students? How do you handle that? Is it something like, “This is due on x, but don’t worry if you can’t do it by then, just get it in.” ? I’m curious how students react to that freedom. Speaking from my experience (admittedly years ago), knowing I would not get penalized, I would have taken full advantage of that to manipulate my overall workload and priorities. Do you find students don’t really do that?

    • So, the biggest misrule of the “no late penalties” is thinking “no deadlines.” I set deadlines, held students responsible for deadlines, contacted parents if it was chronic, etc. I did everything I had always done except apply the penalty. As far as being manipulated, I’m sure most adults are fairly astute at recognizing when students are trying to take advantage of any opportunity. For me, that would violate what I would call the “social contract” between the students and I. I actually felt I was holding students more accountable for learning. A struggling learner has absolutely no reason to do the work after 3 or 4 days of “10% per day off.” If their “best” work is barely a pass, and you’re going to deduct 30-40%, why in the world would they invest any effort in producing high quality work? The very few students who tried to take advantage were dealt with as individuals; the rest really appreciated the non-punitive approach. They believed me when I said “I was on their side!”

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! Tom

  29. Dear Tom,

    There are many teachers who work in places where the zero for the missed assignment is not an issue and so is the late assignment thing. In these countries students work solely towards success in high stakes all or nothing summative assessments like GCSE or A’Levels in the UK or CSE and CAPE in the Caribbean. Very few institutions pay attention to grades assigned in school. Its all about feedback and getting ready for the mother of all exams. “Senioritis” is completely foreign! Yes it is different from Provincial or state exams.

    I listened to you in Shanghai over the last couple days and I realized that your entire thesis is based on the classic North American public school system. As far as I am concerned the grades in that system are pure rubbish. Many of my average students in Trinidad have gone to school on the USA and Canada and suddenly end up on the honor roll. I can tell you this.. the grades may be broken but they certainly build up a kids ego! So inflate away after all its all about CONFIDENCE the rest is just details. I must say that did enjoy your presentation and I learnt from it!!

    Thanks

    Dan

    • Hi Dan,

      I do appreciate you taking the time to comment and I’m glad you enjoyed the two days. It is about confidence, but confidence steeped in reality…artificial ego-boosts are counter-productive over the long run. Grounded optimism and self-efficacy are what we need to develop.

      Thanks again!
      Tom

  30. Hi Tom

    What fantastic points you make about late penalties. I completely agree with you when you say each child’s situation is different and fair is not equal. The whole point of the student going to school is so they meet the curriculum requirements at the end of the year – so, if at the end of the year they have passed the curriculum requirements it doesn’t make a difference when in the year they achieved this. The whole point of the students doing the class is for students to pass at the end of the year.

    I have recently finished my degree and would often shake my head at my school’s rules for late assignments – being that if they are late the student gets 0 and would fail the course. However, the school thought it was absolutely fine when they were late in marking the assignments and thought a simple email apology was sufficient. I found this double standard extremely frustrating when I was the one paying to do the course (a considerable sum of money I might add) and they were the ones being paid.

    I believe late penalties are an old fashioned idea from another day and age, it is based on a perfect world theory and it doesn’t apply to real life. I have been working for 15 years and recently I postponed an assessment I had to do for a work course. My manager was fine with this and I certainly didn’t get fired for not being prepared by the date set. (I’d also like to add I work for one of the biggest companies in the world.)

    Thank you Tom for taking the time to write this post and encouraging others to be more open minded and to stop trying to enforce an old fashioned idea that doesn’t achieve anything but demotivate a student.

    Regards
    Louise

    • Hi Louise,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I never thought of the “double-standard” you mention above… interesting perspective! Life is fluid and doesn’t align with some of the stiff rules we put in place…especially the rules we put in place for students. It seems, at times, that we almost want to hold students to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.

      Tom

  31. Tom,

    I love your information. I was wondering, and since this is a big argument against no penalties, do students find out about the no-penalties-policy and decide to wait until the last chance to turn in work? Do you end up with a mountain of grading at the end of each quarter because you don’t have late penalties?

    thanks.

    • I told my students both what and why I was changing my practice and rarely (there were a couple) had students try to take advantage. Remember that “no late penalties” doesn’t mean “no deadlines.” I did everything else I used to do except the penalty. Most students like/need deadlines to keep their lives organized. The other aspect is that every practice – no penalties – requires a new routine, so think about how you will follow-up with missed deadlines in order to support the students in completing the assignment, etc.

      What I really noticed is that the profile of my students didn’t change with/without the threat of a penalty. Those who struggled with deadlines still struggled; those who didn’t still turned in assignments on time. What I found for the vast majority of my students is that the threat of a penalty made no difference to whether they did/did not finish on time.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.
      Tom

  32. I’m a Junior in high school and I completely agree with you. Some of my teacher’s do teach with this philosophy in mind, and I love it. However, I have a problem and I would like your advice. I missed 3 weeks of school in a row this year because I was sick, then my family traveled to Vietnam. I got really behind in all my classes considering the fact that I have 3 AP Classes and lots of extracurricular activities including theatre (which takes up my entire life). In English I talked to my teacher frequently about my make up work and the last time I talked to her she told me that as long as I got it turned in before the end of the year I’d be fine. I wanted to turn it in all together which I realize now was a mistake so I turned it in today, and the end of the year is tomorrow. She said since I had only given her one day to grade it she would only give me half credit. I’m really nervous now because there’s only 1 day of school left, and I worked extremely hard on all that work, and I really hope she reads it and realizes that it’s much higher quality work than most other student’s in her class have turned in. It took me so long because of how busy I was and because I prioritized my AP classes, and because she said I could turn it in later. What should I do?

    • Hi Rydell, I’m very sorry to have responded late. I’ve been traveling a fair amount and haven’t visited my site for a while. Most of what I have to say is too late since the last day of school was last week. Maybe you can let em know how things turned out. Again, I’m sorry for the delay. Now to your issue.

      The only thing I can say is that you are correct in that waiting until the end of the year was likely a mistake. Even so, had you communicated the progress you were making on the work and updated her along the way the issue may have not come up. For a lot of teachers, the main concern is that you’re not just blowing it off; that you have a plan for how/when you’re going to get the work completed. Just imagine if her entire class waited until the last day…it’s a lot to ask of a teacher. At the same time, she did say “as long as you turned it in before the end of the year you’d be fine.” But first recognize your part in creating this issue. When you talk to her (if you need to and haven’t already) begin by authentically acknowledging how you let things slide.

      My opinion is “half-credit” is unreasonable and unfair. The next part of the conversation is about the “quality” of your work. If the “half-credit” rule was something spelled out ahead of time then, as much as I don’t like it, you’ll have to live with it. However, if the decision to give “half-credit was a random, in-the-moment decision then I think you can argue “quality” over “timeliness.” She can “down-grade” you on work habits, let your parents know that maybe you’ve taken on too much and that she feels you’re falling behind, etc. All of that while keeping it out of the grade book because your English grade now becomes inaccurate as it relates to your ability to meet the standards in that class. Do you receive letter-graded, percentages, or standards-based grades in your school? Again, keep the conversation about the quality of your work and whether it meets or exceeds the standards for your level.

      Almost every teacher I have ever worked with who’s been in situations where students have approached them in a mature, reasonable manner about an issue has been open to the conversations. Putting her on the defensieve will not help the situation. Having a reasonable conversation likely will. Good Luck!

      Tom

  33. I have enjoyed reading through the various comments and have some questions for you. I’m a high school English teacher (seniors- college prep), and our English team is having some difficulties with “enforcing deadlines” for our big assignments, or as we call them– “learning essentials”—for each semester (i.e., writing assignments–like personal statements, research papers, analytical essays, persuasive essays, etc.) We usually assign approximately 6-7 per semester–which is roughly 18 weeks in length.

    Last year, we tried to institute an “Incomplete Policy”, where if students did not meet the final deadline to turn in an assignment (and they had a 3-week window for each essay), then they received an Incomplete for their semester grade and had to complete an intervention class the following semester to complete the work.

    The first semester, out of approximately 500 total seniors, we gave out almost 250 “Incompletes”. These students were enrolled in the intervention class the following semester—where guess what—they STILL didn’t complete the work.

    Now, come the end of the year (when graduation is on the line), we have administrators and counselors saying “Oh come on, just let them turn in their 7 missing essays!”

    Our response: “But they’ve had many chances and failed to meet the deadlines. And some of those assignments were due 3, 4, 5 months ago!”

    Admin/Counselors: “Just let them do what they need to do to pass! As long as they do the work and show proficiency, it shouldn’t matter! If they can DO the work, then they should be able to pass–regardless of whether it’s late or not!”

    Our reality: About 200-300 essays (per teacher) to grade three days before graduation.

    My questions is—Are we wrong in enforcing these deadlines? There is no way that we can accurately grade 200-300 essays within a 3-day window. Basically, it ended up that we were bombarded and overwhelmed.

    While I understand that the whole school:work analogy has some flaws, at the same time, students need to understand that when a window (or grace period) is given, they need to take that opportunity to get the assignment turned in. I think this is analogous to the real world, and students should be allowed to progress at an individual pace, but they cannot expect to just drop 7 essays on my desk 3 days before grades are due and say “Pass me.”

    AND–chances are—the work has not reached proficiency OR is copied. And at the end of a grading period, students take advantage of the “frazzled teacher” and know there is no way we can remember every essay we read and check to see if they copied from a friend that actually turned it in on time 3 months earlier!

    Please help! We don’t know what to do!

    • Hi Kristina – Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m going to try to answer your questions as succinctly as possible but I suspect I might leave you with more questions. What I will also say is that if you have the time/desire, I would be willing to Skype/conference call with you to discuss these issues with you at more depth. I’ll leave that up to you, but please know it is something I do quite frequently. If you send me an email we can make those arrangements. With that, here’s what I might say:

      First, “effective practices are only as good as the systems designed to support the adults who use those practices.” When large numbers of students are “acting” a certain way it is usually a sign that there is a flaw within the system. It is not unreasonable to set deadlines and hold students to those deadlines. The key is that once a deadline is missed there should be a rapid, effective response to alleviate the issue. It is unreasonable to expect you and your colleagues to assess 200-300 papers. It really should never get that far and much “sooner” in the system parents/students need to be informed that every reasonable attempt has been made and that the student is an unwilling participant. With my own students I often referred to our “social contract” which in essence was an unwritten agreement which said, “I’ll give you EVERY chance to succeed as long as you are making an authentic effort. Without an authentic effort I’m going to start to think you’re trying to take advantage the opportunity, which violates the spirit of what I’m trying to do.” My kids really bought into this and on only 2 occasions did I have to call parents and discuss the possibility of that opportunity being lost…both students turned it around.

      Another thing to think about is setting “soft” deadlines or benchmarks to check who’s on/off pace before the deadline. You might say to the class, “I want you all to bring in your introductory paragraphs on Tuesday.” When they bring them in we do some peer- or self-assessment; those who don’t bring it in reveal early that they are at risk of not meeting the deadline. Then you, “…want their body paragraphs by Friday.” Same process. “Concluding paragraphs by the following Monday.” Now the essay is due by the end of the week, but for the past week you already have insight as to who is on/off track.

      Now, on the other hand, if we look at the essays as a “body of evidence” one might argue that it’s not necessary for students to complete all 8 essays in order for you to accurately assess their writing. Again, the purpose of the essays is not (I’m assuming) about “task-completion” (i.e. “do-as-I-say) but about learning. Without 1 or 2 of the assignments, my guess is you could accurately assess the students writing for summative purposes, that is, to report to others.

      I’m going to stop here and again offer to consult with you (or your department) on a more personal level. This can be a complex issue, although I think with some simple steps you can mitigate this quite significantly. The large numbers indicate that this is not so much a “student-thing” as it is a “system-thing” that I think I can help you with further.

      Let me know if you’d like to discuss this further: tschimmer@live.ca

      Tom

  34. I just sat through middle school curriculum night for my children. Every teacher was very proud of their policy of accepting late assignments for a week after they’re due for 50% credit(an F). The social studies teacher even pointed out that if she collects papers at the beginning of the period and someone gives it to her at the end of class, it’s still 50% off. Why would anyone even bother doing it at that point? It’s a frustrating time to be a student. I think a visit to the school board is in order, maybe even a petition. I could see having some penalty, maybe even up to 10% off a day, but automatic F?

  35. Although I see your reasons and agree in principle with a “no penalty” policy, I struggle with how this works in reality where there are too many students and too little time.

    I struggle with the idea of consequences that require more time from me. I can’t “hold students in” without giving them a detention which then requires me tracking students down on my own time outside of the school day or calling/emailing parents when they don’t show up. I also don’t have additional time to contact parents every time a student doesn’t turn in work. I wish I could but I have 5 classes with 30-32 students in each and very limited prep time to create lessons, go to required meetings, grade student work, reorganize the supplies we use in class, answer/send emails, dealing with outdated and malfunctioning technology, etc. Daily, I spend hours of my own time after school just trying to stay afloat and still feel panic. I have no more time to give if I hope to maintain my own health and well being.

    The online grading program that we are required to use will not separate a “learning outcomes grade” from a “work habit grade”….it all gets averaged together into one letter grade. There is a big push towards us letting students turn in work whenever they want to. Many students currently turn it in on time but since some don’t it sometimes hinders the whole class being able to move on together during the next lesson/lab. If I could split the class and lead two lessons at once that would be great…but I am one person. We are also being pushed be able to retake tests even when the student who does poorly often has not done the work to prepare for the original test and often admittedly didn’t study. This puts the burden on the teacher to spend MORE time outside of an already very long work day creating retake tests and review work to allow those students to retake test. This allows LESS time for preparing exciting lessons for all students for the upcoming classes. Realistically, there is only so much time in the day! At what point do we consider what one person is capable of accomplishing when we have so many students on our load and not just what would be preferable in a perfect world? Since I am required to teach en masse, do you have a suggestions of how I can be more time efficient in tracking and supporting the students who need outside support to complete the work in a reasonable time frame so that they stay current with the class?

    • I’m sorry you never got a reply to your questions. You raised some excellent points and I have some of the same concerns. I was really looking forward to what others had to say in reply to your post.

  36. Without getting too specific, I have a child that receives help for school. Last Friday she got her homework for math, and later that day her special ed teacher decided to help her with it. Since she was not in math, she had a different note book. The teacher gave her a copied sheet that was the assignment and they set out completing it. So, on Friday, the homework given on Friday was done. On Monday, she forgot that she had put it in her other notebook. She went to class. She was not allowed to go back to her locker, and the special Ed teacher never stuck up for her. She was given a ZERO. The homework was in school and complete and this other teacher knew it. Anyway-the zero has to stick. This is because the school has no universal policy in place. It allows all the teachers to create their own policy. This ZERO goes to a 12 year old who struggles everyday to complete homework. What a kick in the teeth.
    I think holding a child to a standard of perfection, that in which a child is given a zero for a missed or late homework assignment is wrong. This is middle school these children are not at that age where they can make a conscientious descision to turn in or not turn in a homework assignment and really know the ramifications of what a zero does to them.
    I applaud your stance and wish teachers in our school would get together and make a standardized or universal policy on late homework. I do understand some penalties, but extreme penalties are inappropriate and down right mean. In the real world you can negotiate many deadlines, or you can delegate certain pieces to other employees to help complete a task. It’s not as rigid as middle school and high school would lead you to believe. I do work in a very deadline driven job. I do understand how that is.Thank you for this article it is great food for thought!

    • Hi Kristina – Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      In short, what happened to your child (as you’ve described it) is absurd. Holding a 12 yr. old to any “real world” standard is outrageous. Needless to say, there is a lot of space between being 12 and being a fully responsible adult…at least 10 years! Comparing middle school to any adult employment situation is a desperate attempt to justify an old-school punitive mindset. I am all for accountability, but that accountability must be age appropriate. The problem with zeros and penalties is that they distort a students level of achievement making grades meaningless because they no longer exclusively reflect a students ability to meet the learning outcomes/standards in any particular course. This practice of punitive grading has no place in a modern, learning-centered education system. Hold students accountable? Yes. Punish them in the grade book? No.

      Sadly there are a small number of teachers…and I want to emphasize very small number…who use penalties as an arrogant weapon against children who need our support, encouragement, and inspiration. Instead, we expect perfection from young people in their formative years. Punitive grading doesn’t work…the educational research makes that very clear. I wish there was more I could do to support you and your child.

      As you can tell, I get a little fired up when adults take advantage of the positions they hold over children. Good luck!

      Tom

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  38. Thanks, I find that anything that is late Is just not right academically if you turn something in ONE day late it is ridiculous that you can only get 50/100 points which majorly affects one’s grade. This is the best one so far, Keep up the good work!

  39. This is an interesting argument and conversation. I started my career as a “turn it about this day” teacher; I changed after receiving the “flood of assignments”. Now, I am trying to strike a balance. We don’t have effort grades to reflect work habits, and we are moving to Common Core which is designed to have students college and career ready. Being from the corporate world, deadlines are deadlines, and quality work is to be there. Where do we find the balance to address the “unintentional message” that there is no real time that things are needed?

    • I think the biggest misperception is that “no late penalties” = “no accountability to deadlines.” For me, these are two different concepts. First, the grades we report, in whatever format, should accurately reflect a student’s level of proficiency as it relates to the curricular standards. Including non-learning factors like penalties and zeros distort the accuracy of what we report and, therefore, contribute to grades that lose their meaning. Second, deadlines matter so I have no issues with teachers responding to missing work in a timely manner and then having a system response if it lingers or is a chronic issue. I guess I would turn your statement re: “career ready” and ask a different question. Is the only way to teach students how to time manage, meet deadlines, and produce quality through the threat of a penalty? Couldn’t we be a little more thoughtful than that? If the penalty worked, then no one would turn in anything late, but clearly the penalty doesn’t produce the desired result. I agree that students should be held accountable to learning and accountable for deadlines, but for me, accountability is not about penalties.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jerry. Cheers!

  40. Thank you Kristina!

    Our first two children now 29 and 24 did their school work on time. We home school # 3 now 16 and a very young senior. If he doesn’t get his work done on time, we can shift it to the next week and work all summer. He got National Merit Commended and a very good ACT score so I guess we are doing something right.

    My husband says this: It is like being told to eat an elephant. The student sees it as an impossible taks and just cannot take the first bite and so they never start. It can get done however, if one just takes the first bit and keeps biting.

    #4 is in 7th grade and she just doesn’t get her work done on time (Too many outside activities – yes we know……..) and then gets so behind that it is just too much to do. With 10% off each day and 4 days over due, she sees no reason to do it because she will get an ‘F” anyway. I just got her 2nd quarter homework back. She did mostly “A” work but because it was late, she got all “F’s and failed three classes for 2nd quarter. I think 10% is too much. I understand the working world but these students are not there yet and need an encouraging situation to inspire them to learn and get the work done. There is a spot on the report card to give comments on issues such as turning work in on time. How about other consequences such as no recess or stay after school or no music (I am am music teacher so i don’t like this but it might have to happen.) Call a meeting with parents and the student. I had to call school and ask for a meeting.BUT don’t fail them if they did all the work and did it well. Where is the support, encouragement and inspiration?

    • Thansk for your thoughtful comments. Great question…where is the support, encouragement, and inspiration? With #4 you’ve hit a fatal flaw in the “late penalty” policy…after 4 or 5 days there is absolutely no reason to submit the work as the net result will be the same. Some think that’s accountability…I say it lets them off-the-hook. Instead of managing these arbitrary policies (I say arbitrary as there is no empirical evidence to support 10%-per-day as a “best practice”) we should spend our minutes increasing engament, relevance, and meaning. Thanks again! Cheers!

      • Thank you for the encouragement Tom. We have met with the principal twice and I think she has agreed that the “A letter grade down per day” did not work to get the students to turn work in on time. Our daughter is caught up for 3rd quarter but already she has 3 F’s, a D and a C because of late penalties and I don’t think that even in this early part of the quarter she can recover. We are working on the organization skills to have the homework make it home so she can do the work. I hope I can get her teachers to forgive some of the lateness and work to support, encourage and inspire my daughter to continue to do great work AND get it in on time.

        Mary Kay

  41. It’s crazy!! I have a son with ADD. His biggest problem is remembering things. He has support in school, he has a homework pad, we have homework posted on-line. The problem is that if he forgets worksheets, or forgets to turn in homework, he gets 25% off everyday. Many times his homework will be in his binder….just forgotten. The “put it in the bin” thing does not work for him because he gets distracted and forgets. And by the time we realize there’s a something missing, his work is given a “0.”

    When he comes home with unfinishe work I have him do it, in an attempt to keep him in good standing, have him review his work, and to have him be responsible for his work. Last night was one of those days when the kid spent hours completing homework worksheets that had been left at school forgotten. He completed three math workshees (about 30 problems each).

    Today we got them back with a note on it…”Thank you for doing this [XXXX], but you handed them in too late to get credit.” Is it me, or is this totally unacceptable and cruel? (He came home crying.) Oh, and did I mentioned that he does have a 504 plan which allows for extra time for completing work. I guess we interpret it differently, since they seem to only apply it to tests, “when needed or appropriate.” (BTW this comment was from a teacher who is generally supportive!)

    I’m now in the process of doing a little research about his rights as a student with a disability, or (what the heck) as a kid being subjected to these ridiculous policies. This is the first article I’ve been able to find related to this problem, but I’m still searching. Anything anyone can recommend will be greatly appreciated. I will be looking into things written by Sara Bennett, although I don’t think she specifically talks about the “degrading the grade” problem. I’ll will also check Dr. Douglass Reeves.

    Please write me with suggestions at mrsenesi@yahoo.com.

    Thanks!

  42. I am currently struggling with and possible revising my late work policy. I teach primarily high school seniors, most of whom will go on to college or the military.

    Currently, my late work policy involves late work contracts. If a student doesn’t have an assignment to turn in when it is due, he must complete and fill out a late work contract. The contract asks why the deadline was missed and what happened. It also asks the student what he plans to do about it. When does he plan to have the work turned in? The first semester, I have been pretty lenient. If he turns the work in by his self-created, revised deadline, I don’t deduct any points. However, if he misses his own deadline, it has an impact on his grade. I have noticed that it is the same few students who turn in the late work contracts.

    We, as adults, typically understand goal setting, prioritization, time management, making ourselves work before play, holding out for delayed gratification, etc. But we learned these behaviors, usually through trial and error, during our own youth and education. Children don’t understand these things innately. They are all learned behaviors and skills that are sometimes contrary to human nature. And it is normal and natural to make mistakes when one is learning something new. We need to support our students as they learn and make those mistakes. We shut them down when we are unnecessarily punitive.

    On the other hand, particularly with seniors, I have deadlines because THEY have deadlines. Grades must be submitted to transcripts for college applications. Grades must be submitted to ensure graduation requirements have been met, I set my deadlines backwards, by looking at when their grades are due, figuring out how long it will take me to grade the assignments (factoring in directing extracurricular theater productions, grad school, running a household, having some semblance of work/life balance, and sleeping!) and then arriving at the due date when all of that is taken into consideration.

    Any thoughts on late work contracts? Has anyone tried them? I am a huge fan of student ownership and accountability. I am also starting to think that late work penalties are counter-productive, particularly if they are demotivating already struggling students.

  43. I also wanted to mention that I really liked what you had to say about your “social contract.” I think it’s important for them to understand that we aren’t stupid and this isn’t a set up for them to take advantage of us. Ultimately, they are only hurting themselves!

  44. Pingback: Although “no late work” is my official policy… « Pearson Assessment Training Institute

  45. Dear Tom Schimmer,

    First of all I want to thank you for writing such an engaging post. I really enjoyed that you presented both sides of the argument and as a current undergraduate university student I find it very interesting to hear a teacher’s perspective on the late penalty.

    In all honesty, I am one of those students who has always struggled with organization and time management. I am a very diligent and hard working student and when I do get my work in I normally achieve marks that reflect my work ethic and my intellectual capacity. I pride myself in the work that I submit but at the same time I wonder if I am too meticulous, methodical and perfectionist about the work that I hand in. In reality I have struggled with time management for YEARS and have had to learn better time management skills predominantly on my own since I moved out at a young age and as a result had a lot more responsibilities than my peers. I can’t help but try to figure out where I went wrong because I feel like all I ever do is work, work and more work… On one hand I realize that I have had to learn a lot on my own and push myself through school without a lot of the emotional and mental support that many of my peers get from their families BUT at the same time I really don’t want this lack to define me. I have always been a slower worker and I sometimes wonder if it has to do with the fact that I am hard-of-hearing and I need to work harder to pay attention to what everyone is saying in every class for fear that I will miss crucial information.

    Over the years I have improved a lot with time management. At one time, while I was still in high school, I was so bad at managing my time that it affected every aspect of my life including my own physical and mental health. However, there were many family issues that went along with my inability to focus entirely on my education. I don’t think that people really realize how much these kinds of problem can affect a person’s daily life and I also don’t think that people realize how hard it is to learn such time management skills when you were never taught by example from your parents while growing up. That said, I am glad that I have improved so much but sometimes I feel like I am still stuck at a dead end. I don’t hand in every assignment late but I usually have one late assignment per class so if I have six classes that means that I would have approximately six late assignments in one semester. Most of the classes I take have at least three to four assignments per class. I am still not sure what to do with my time management skills. I try my hardest to start assignments early but I find it very difficult to work on multiple assignments at one time. I like to focus on one, work my hardest on it, complete it and then move on to the next one. I can never understand people who can finish an essay in one sitting…. it takes me sometimes months to complete an essay but I will get in between an 85-95%.

    I have worked as an undergraduate research assistant for one of my current profs for over a year now. She knows my work habits and has commented on my hard work ethic and I rarely run into deadline problems at work so I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that if you struggle with time management in school then you will be the same in the workforce; I think its a lot more complex of an issue than one of binary opposition. In any case I still see room for improvement when it comes to time management and I am always constantly trying to think of new and creative ways to better manage my time and better yet get over my perfectionist streak. Do you have any suggestions for books or websites that may be a good resource?

    Thank you,
    Kameela

  46. I stumbled across your article in a google search for ways to motivate teens. I am a long term sub at a title 1 high school and I teach junior and senior english. I consistently have over 60% of my students not turning in their work. I had a strict late work policy but was told that my class average was unacceptable becuase of so many zeroes, so now I take work whenevcer students have it. The problem I am seeing with this polivy is that students are handing in work from last marking period, and although you say its a myth, having students taught in this district, i know I will be getting a flood of latr work at the end of the school year. I stopped giving homeowrk and only give class work now, and my ghrades are not imporving. Additionally, my students are not prepared for assessments because they have nmot completed any assignments, At my school assessments are 80% of the grade weight, which is contributing to failing grades. Any advice on how to deal with this particular situation? Any motivators you would reccomend?

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  48. Tom, after two years this post still resonates. I just assigned it to my new first-year students, some of whom did their homework and some of whom did not during our first week of the academic year. The best way to address it (for students to “own” the issue) seemed to be this discussion.

  49. Tom, can turn my taxes in late? After all, if we apply your logic, if I rushed through them to get them done on time, perhaps it wouldn’t reflect my true ability to complete them to IRS standards. Let’s get real. Very little of what is taught in school will be used or applied later in life. Educators these days are afraid to admit that school for the most part is a socialization process where students gradually learn to function in the real world. One of those important lessons is to complete tasks on time. I agree that teachers can take late penalties to the extreme, but I would much rather have my child learn the importance of deadlines. Oh, by the way, they learn the material better too. Those lessons will last a life time and pay huge dividends, in post secondary, and beyond.

    • Shelley, thanks for taking the time to read/comment. Like many, you make the simple mistake of mixing penalties and deadlines. As the post said, I still set deadlines and held students accountable to those deadlines and felt they were important…I just stopped short of penalizing them since it distorts their grades when other factors are mixed in. I am very confident in my ability to teach students to be accountable and responsible without hammering them in the grade book. Thee is no research to support your claim that penalties/deadlines are what lead to increased learning. I taught kids important life lessons too, I just didn’t have use positional power to do it.

    • Yes, you can turn your taxes in late if you are entitled to a refund. No penalty. This is where knowledge is more important than deadlines, and something that was never taught in school. Go figure.

      It is only your opinion that anyone learns the material better if they complete a task on time. For someone who didn’t understand the material, learning it before turning it in is more important that turning it in on time, getting a poor grade (or no grade since many teacher just check off that the homework cam in, but never check it) and moving on without learning the material at all.

  50. Pingback: Challenging the Status Quo | Connected Principals

  51. I agree with so much of what you say and have a great deal of difficulty in enforcing penalties for late work for the same reasons you discuss. I am curious how you handle one aspect of teaching. Like my dislike for “0’s” and late penalties, I also think students deserve a 2nd chance for blowing a quiz or test. There are many legitimate reasons and inflexibility leads to test or performance anxiety for many students. The problem is that certain students see these policies as opportunities to take advantage of a forgiving teacher. They are chronically late, therefore do poorly on assessments, then wait until the last possible moment (after they’ve seen the assessment) to learn just enough to get an acceptable grade. I’ve been looking for other non-academic consequences without success. Any suggestions?

  52. My son’s high school does not allow for late assignments at all. This was explained at the beginning of the year. The primary reason for not accepting late assignments is course work builds from one week to the next. If a student is not completing the work on time then they may not be clearly grasping the subject matter that will be necessary for the next step in the learning process. There is no way for the teacher to assess this and it is difficult for the student to catch up.

    I am also a business leader. In my experience over the past 20 years I have seen a significant decline in the ability of young employees to manage time and deadlines. They manage their work product and project deadlines much the same as they have been trained in school. In the real world the ability to manage time and work product to deadlines is one of the most critical factors for success. There are consequences in the real world to not being able to do this. Its called getting fired. Please stop doing children a disservice by “allowing them to turn in late work”

    • I was going to ask the question – what if assignments are due the next day because the next day’s activities will build on that assignment? What if the assignment is important to complete in order to take a formal assessment? I assign homework to practice skills I teach in class. We go over the HW the next day. If a kid didn’t do it, then what good is it that they sit there without having tried it on their own? Why would a kid turn in an assignment building knowledge that they were tested on weeks ago? Any recommendations, Tom?
      Thanks!

    • “The primary reason for not accepting late assignments is course work builds from one week to the next. If a student is not completing the work on time then they may not be clearly grasping the subject matter that will be necessary for the next step in the learning process. There is no way for the teacher to assess this and it is difficult for the student to catch up.”

      Okay, so how does penalizing students help them with the next step in learning? There are many societal factors contributing to the decline in the inability for young people to meet deadlines in the business world. I hardly think it is because of students and missed assignment deadlines. The writer of this article has expressed that he instills the work ethic in his students in other ways.

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  54. Wow! I whole heartly agree with you! There are students who have LD (learning disabilities) that prevent them to work in the time frame given due to slow processing speed, short term memory, ADHD, Dyslexia, and so on. My son in particular is in a new school and his ELA teacher is out to get him!! I’ve seen countless examples. She is always willing to report the few negatives, instead of telling us and him the positives. Despite his well documented struggles and his IEP, she continues to want to penalize him for his LD, which in fact is illega!!! I get disgusted with teachers like that who aren’t willing to work with students who struggle with LD. They didn’t ask to be disabled. It’s not their fault, so stop penalizing them! Work with them, encourage them, help them find strategies to strengthen their weaknesses so they can suceeed!!! My son works really hard! Just recently he was so proud of himself completing his work, but that positive feeling and reward of sharing it with his friends was immediately deflated by a techer telling him that he screwed up again!! I think teachers need stop and try to see it from the disabled perspectives to help them better help their students. It’s not about definace!! LD affects each student differently and no two students learn exactly the same way. Students with LD hear ENOUGH negatives on a daily basis!! They need to hear what they are doing right, be encouraged, and hear more positives to keep them motivated to keep trying each day while dealing with their daily struggles with LD. In my son’s professional reports it is well documented that for every negative, he needs to hear 5 positives, but there are certain teachers that he has, including his acclaimed ‘interventionsit’ who doesn’t do this so he can stay motivated and find ways to be successful. The saying, “You can attract more flies with honey than vinegar” so applies with students with disabilities. I am urked with teachers who don’t try to help them succeed knowing they struggle with LD! If they continue to hear negativity, why would they want to continue trying if they only get beat down daily? Teachers like this are so set in their ways and shouldn’t be teaching in my opinion. They need to rethink why they chose to be a teacher. To teach means to be compassionate, patient, encouragers, and inspire their students. If they cannot supply this, then they need to consider another career path for they aren’t doing our society any favors by being negative and beating kids down who need to be encouraged and inspired to continue dealing with their disabilities. After all education is about learning new materials and finding strategies for them to be successful, not penalizing day after day!

  55. Pingback: Classroom Management – Late Penalties | Travis Goodman's Education Journey

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  57. I wish my English teacher could understand these points if not some of them. I’m a quality writer with aspirations… She’s a great teacher too but recently my school has had about a month off in snow days. We read huckleberry Finn and were meant to write a research paper. The paper is 500 points and meant to be 5-8 pages arguing that Huck is the hero! Besides the fact that this is an outrageous topic because our topics are meant to have real world ties… There are some other problems:
    She gave us set guidelines over A period of time… But they were essential to her specific writing preference so our unique ness was out the door… And without the information on what she wanted we couldn’t get started untill a week before it was due. This may have worked for people without lives who can dedicate their time to writing and going to the library all that… But I have two honors math classes I need to think of and a sports team that needs my help… I hate crunching … And that was the only option so I decided to leave it and instead of wensday turned it in Monday… Now my project was down 40% and another 10% because I only had four sources… Well let me tell you mate- finding sources on huckleberry Finn hero or not hero? Is rather hard … There were some other little nicks to this project as well but those were the major issues- and my grade suffered severely for it… Now I’m doing poorly in English and my mum is putting it all on me… I’m depressed about it… And I wish my ancient old teacher( she will never change her opinion) could see it your way… Thanks for the article
    Any ideas???????
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  59. I respect your decision to not had out late penalties, and I’m sure it takes a little bit of stress of certain students who are struggling. I utterly disagree with your policy however.

    At the start of term I lay out my grading policy and penalties for late work (weekly assignments, 10% first week late, 25% second week late, no work accepted after two weeks late). I make sure there is absolutely no ambiguity or misunderstanding among my students on this point.

    Under certain exceptional circumstances that can be proved, I do of course relax this policy.

    I feel that there is more to learning in the classroom than just the curriculum. We teach by example and consistency. We engender certain qualities in our students that will serve them well in life. Creativeness, respect, punctuality, responsibility, collaboration etc. etc.

    I used to have a lax approach to late work, but I found that the more I latitude allowed students in this area, the less they cared or tried in other areas also.

    The reality of modern life is that a laissez faire attitude to work does not promote success for the individual. Nobody wants to work with or for somebody who is a day late and a dollar short.

    • I agree! Because I want to be a choir teacher for high school girls when I grow up, I will allow ONLY excused absences from choir concerts, NOT stupid unexcused absences. Choir concert absences because they’re lazy will give an automatic zero for the concert grade.
      We follow the guidelines in our choir girls that will serve them well in life: Creativeness, respect, punctuality, responsibility, collaboration. A laissez faire attitude in my poor choir girls will not produce success for the individual. They complain; I tell them, “From age 23 up until age 35, I made my six-year-olds skate 100 laps. Now at 36, I will not treat you like first-graders.”

  60. I love the article. I already was pretty flexible, but this helped me clarify some of my thoughts. I’ve thought of your article numerous times throughout the semester. I shave off a tiny bit (up to 5% or so). It gets the point across without destroying a grade.

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  62. What do you do if you allow late work, and you return the work to the students? If kids are turning stuff in late, then they can just copy off of the kids who get theirs back. I like the idea of allowing late work because it creates a more relaxed environment – but I just don’t understand the logistics. Please advise.

    • I am wondering more about the kind of work you mean. Many students copy off each other before they turn stuff in, especially if it’s a worksheet of some kind. However, for a written analysis or summary, copying isn’t really possible and sometimes students who have exemplars do a better job having seen clearly what was expected. If the assignment is just a day or two late, which is the most common scenario for me, I usually haven’t even graded all of them yet anyway. Another consequence that I impose when appropriate is to have the student go right now to the hall or other suitable location and complete the assignment. If it is something you gotta have before you can move forward, then you go do it now and join us when it is done.

  63. Thank you for this! I’m a COLLEGE student undergoing punitive effects against my final grade in a course because I failed to turn in a paper within the day it was due. This particular instructor has a policy that after every HOUR your paper is late, she reduces the grade by a percentage. She of course, almighty as she is, refers directly to her unreasonable syllabus when questioned. Frankly, she’s nothing more than a tyrant who cares nothing about the genuine learning and development of her students but only about her own control. She’s a female Caligula, sponsored by a small community college filled with students’ whos self-esteem is low enough already. As a psych major, I can’t help but see a giant hypocrite with complexes seeping through, she should KNOW BETTER.

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  65. One thing that I do is have students complete a “missing assignment” slip on the day something is due that they have not turned in. Students fill out the slip with the name of the assignment, the reason they don’t have it, and when they think they will finish and turn it in. These slips are on brightly colored paper and half sheets, so I can quickly collect them to the top of the stack and look them over – usually before students leave the classroom. This usually allows me to conference with the student at the end of the period. If the reason for lateness is due to having been sick or a sports tournament or similar common reasons, then I look at their proposed date and approve it or encourage them to move it up a little. Often, I get a “I forgot it” and “tomorrow” is the expected date. When I do get a response like “I missed the day you explained this and my friend’s notes were not as good as I expected” then I can remedy that with a copy of my notes. Or if I get a response like “I got concepts confused and wrote my paper on cellular respiration and not photosynthesis” then I can address that. Misunderstandings are rare, but they provide real intervention opportunities.

    One advantage to the slips is that the students create the documentation taking that burden from me. It is also a natural consequence — the real world has flexible deadlines but often requires that we explain ourselves and set a reasonable deadline. Using the slips, I can easily spot trends. I pull these out for parent conferences when needed, and it helps all of us focus on chronic problems that need to be solved. If a student follows the procedure of documenting the late assignment and meets their new due date, no grade penalty is assigned. I still reserve the right to give partial credit if an assignment continues to miss renegotiated deadlines, but this is just the way I word it in my class policies for the parent’s sake and cover myself if needed. In practice, the reasons for the lateness matter. In some cases, we have identified students who need IEPs, students who need targeted intervention for organizational skills, students who are undergoing a major crisis at home, etc. If I feel I am being given the runaround even after appropriate intervention, I could impose a penalty. And rightfully so, as I can’t say a student is meeting a standard if I don’t have the evidence to support it. What usually happens, though, is that additional support is given and the student comes through with the work.

    Oddly, however, I immediately place zeroes in the electronic grade book that students and parents can see at any time. In the comments, I put the new date the work is expected. This is easily done by just taking my stack of 3-4 slips and a couple of minutes in the grade book These zeroes go in the grade book faster than the assignments that I still have to grade, and serve as a reminder to me and to the student that work is missing. It makes the current grade dismal and puts the student on his or her homeroom teacher’s radar (the HR teachers check grades weekly and coach students appropriately). I found that if I did not put in zeroes, I forget about missing work, students sometimes forget, and the grade looks fine even though several assignments are missing. The zeroes get replaced with the earned grade — no point penalties applied. This usually unfolds smoothly for all but the chronically late, and for them this has the effect of creating the supporting documentation I need to initiate further intervention.

    I don’t think my system is perfect, but since my district does not use a standards based reporting system, I think it does help me keep the grades reflective of the learning process. I also make it a point not to assign unnecessary work or to give grades for formative assessments. I never provide extra credit for individual students, though I sometimes offer extra credit for the whole class such as an especially tough problem on a test. These extra credit opportunities add up to less than 2% of the points available in a term, but they do challenge students who want to go deeper. No student could ever make up a deficit in a standard by doing extra credit.

    My next challenge is to get some of my colleagues on board with these ideas. I struggle with some of my fellow teachers who have harsh late penalties and preach “real world consequences” while they are also the ones most likely to be late to meetings, late to work, have no grades posted until the last two weeks of the term, etc. etc. Then there are also those who offer extra credit the last two weeks of the term because half the class is failing. I am considered “soft” because I don’t have harsh penalties, give hours of homework, and occasionally allow students to redo work that does not meet standards.

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  69. Interesting post. I’m actually researching the theories behind giving or not giving late penalties in education. Though I find your arguments logical in many aspects, I find some holes. B. F. Skinner, a behaviorist, believed that our actions are a result of consequences. If a student turns in an assignment late and receives no late penalties, what has he/she just learned? That due dates are not important. As educators we’re responsible for teaching our content, but we’re also in charge of teaching responsibility, respect, and many other things that are not a part of our curriculum. We may not teach this directly (I don’t have lessons on respect in my classroom), but when I see a student who is out of hand, I have to show in some way that that is unacceptable (be it through participation points, a trip to the principal’s office, etc.). I don’t believe that permanent 0’s are the answer, and I align much more with your window of opportunity idea. In my classroom I have assignment due dates, but late penalties are given until after the unit due date, giving students 2-8 days to turn in assignments. Each unit (which lasts roughly 10 days) that an assignment is late, it receives a late penalty of 10%, with a max deduction of 30%. This means that student can turn in all work for the entire semester in the last week of school (showing competency), but is not awarded the same amount of points as someone who has been consistently turning in work on time. Thinking about the students, is it fair for a student to turn in work consistently on time and at the end of the year find out that he could have done the entire course’s assignments the last week of school and receive the same grade? I don’t believe that any number of late penalties should be justification for a failing grade, but I do believe that turning in work on time is something that needs to be emphasized, and if there’s no punishment (aside from stress of cramming assignments last minute), then we’re not teaching students much in terms of responsibility.

    Consider education as career preparation – how would an employer view late work? It really all depends on the job and the boss, but most don’t look too kindly too it. Of course, just about every employer recognizes special circumstances (and when my students have a death in the family or other major issues that cause a delay in work submission, I don’t hold them to my late penalties either), but consistent late work in a job is cause for termination. If Skinner is right and our lack of late penalties is conditioning students to not submit work on time, then we’re conditioning them to do the same in their future jobs.

    Maybe online education is different, but I just had a huge surge in late work submissions. Of course, those late submissions don’t spike the last week of the school year, because most students who are super behind have already given up at that point finding it to be a lost cause. My spike of assignments happened roughly 3 weeks before the end of the semester. After having my inbox completely empty one day Friday, I logged in on Monday to find roughly 150 late assignments submitted between the 3 courses I teach (with roughly 215 students between all the courses). Most of those assignments were submitted by the same 30 students.

    As I stated before, I’m against the idea that late penalties should be heavy enough to fail a student, but I don’t believe in conditioning students to believe that late work is an acceptable practice in any setting. We have a grade scale for a reason, and subject competency isn’t the only factor dividing students from an A to an F any more than subject competency is the only measurement for deciding on whether a person is worthy of a promotion or pay raise.

    • I think we are conflating a few terms here. Being late has consequences. It is a behavior problem and should have behavioral consequences. This is not the same as a distorted grade consequence. The flip side is the student who decides to “take a zero” and never does the work. This student has 100% academic consequence, but doesn’t have to do the assignment. If I am late with my boss, there is a consequence, but it is not 10% of my pay for the first day and 20% the second day, etc. The consequence is that I have to work to earn back my bosses trust and I might get assigned some extra duties. If I am habitually late, I will get written up, given a chance to correct the behavior, then eventually fired. But I will never lose 10% of my paycheck for the very first time I run late and increasingly harsh penalties from that point. This kind of “real world” is actually quite rare outside of school.
      The other ideas we may be conflating are the difference between a late assignment and a habitually late student. If Skinner were correct, the consequence should be sufficient to modify the behavior of the habitually late student, but this is not supported by research. Habitually late students don’t do better or worse based on grading policies. They need special intervention. Meanwhile, our “normal” students suffer because of policies targeted at the habitually late.
      I really don’t understand a surge in late work submissions either. If students are contacted when they are late and steps taken to address the causes and a new deadline negotiated, it makes no sense there would be a huge surge of late work at the end of a course. If, on the other hand, there was a policy of always accepting late work no matter what and with absolutely no behavioral consequence, then it does make sense. We set deadlines for assignments based on our own timetables and without regard to planned weddings, unexpected funerals, acts of nature, and especially without knowing the workload and deadlines for assignments in other classes. Students need to learn to balance this workload, but negotiating is one of the skills that I value and I will work with students who handle their lateness with grace and initiative. All the but the chronically late seem to respect this with late work being rare and for short periods — a day or two at most.

      • I think one of the other differences in our points of view is it almost seems like you’re referring purely to home work. What of the in class work that students are given ample time to complete but aren’t using their time appropriately. I teach computer courses and when I was in a brick-and-mortar school I frequently would be going from computer to computer helping students and see the same 4 or 5 students surfing the net or playing solitaire rather than completing their programming assignments. Of course there are classroom management strategies that help manage this better, but in a 1 hour class with 35-40 students, it’s pretty difficult to ensure that every student is using their time effectively, so should there be no punishment for poor use of class time? Of course, you could make this separate from the assignment (1 grade for course work and 1 for classroom behavior), but that tacks on more work for the teacher now having to analyze every student and putting a grade on their behavior for each day. Seems much easier to me just to attach late penalties to assignments.
        I’m still not convinced with your above arguments that a student who completes 100% of the work the last week of school deserves the same grade as the kid who completes everything on time. And what of “real-time” assignments. In an online atmosphere we substitute real-time discussions with online forums that students need to participate in. If they’re unable to participate during that week and contribute to an ongoing discussion on a specific topic, should they be allowed to come in at the end and say a couple comments and get full credit? Granted, exceptions exist (the kid whose mother just passed away would be excused from this type of assignment, as would the student whose parent is taking them on a trip to Disneyland that week). Setting aside the kids that are the exceptions though, I don’t believe a student is contributing to a discussion if they come in after the discussion has ended but they had the opportunity to participate, they just didn’t take it.

      • And the statement about never losing 10% of a pay check ignores certain commissioned jobs (such as art) where your pay is based off of not only the quality of work, but a timely manner of work submission. Not meeting deadlines in a commissioned job could very well cost you 10% of your potential earnings, or you might not be paid at all and your work isn’t accepted because of it. Being late to work as a teacher is grounds for termination which is far worst than 10% paycheck withheld.

        You mention the difference between a habitually late student and a student who is late on occasion. A student who is late on occasion shouldn’t need to worry about late penalties because it shouldn’t impact their grade that much (at least, not with the late penalty I do). A week Late on a couple assignments a semester will minimally impact a student’s grade and will rarely be the difference between an A and a B.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if late submissions are far more in online schools than in brick-and-mortar schools. My recent surge in assignment submissions came primarily from students who don’t make it to our virtual class consistently and do not check their school e-mail addresses frequently to get the reminders for missing assignments. This is something that as a school we’re trying to figure out how to attack, but it’s difficult because for those students who don’t come to class and check their messages we’d have to call them individually to ensure that they’re aware of their missing work which is time consuming and takes far too long with all the other responsibilities a teacher has. I agree that for the perpetually late we need intervention, and we’re working on it, but when you don’t have daily face-to-face contact with students, it’s far harder than you might think.

      • I am not referring entirely to homework. As I explained in my first post, when an assignment is due, such as at the end of a class period, and it is not done, the student fills out a slip explaining why and tells me when I can expect the assignment. Sometimes, if the student was working with computer #47 or Johnny ADHD was his partner, then I completely understand and no late penalty is assigned. If the student was goofing off and watching funny cat videos, I bring this to his attention and let him know there will be a penalty if this continues. Unless, of course, it is a habitually late student, in which case I take other steps for intervention.

        It is true that in some jobs there is a fine imposed if the work is not completed on time. But in these cases, and in the case of commission work, both parties have agreed on a due date. In the classroom, the due date is imposed, frequently with regard to our own schedules and nothing more. And while it is easier to slap a penalty on something and move on, I try to go beyond that for the sake of my students. Also, I have been late to school and I haven’t gotten fired. Of course, I did the responsible thing and called en route. I train students to do something similar. The earlier I know that an assignment will be late, the less likely points will be deducted. And, as I also stated above, I do have a late policy in my syllabus that I can choose to enforce if a student is late and chooses not to inform me or avoids me or gives me endless BS. I am covered if I need to give a punitive grade to get the attention of the students and parents, but I prefer for these work habits to be part of the learning process. Plus, I really only have a few problems each year, and it is almost always around large, multiple step projects. I rarely give homework other than assignments that are connected to these projects and the need to prepare and study for tests. Failure to study has natural consequences that show up on the test.

        It does sound like your policy is pretty fair and not as extreme as some teachers who give an automatic zero after the second day something is late. Therefore, it is probably not a big deal. You are charging a small fee, like an overdue book fee, that attaches value to timeliness. If the library charged us the $75 lost book fee automatically when we were late with a book rather than the 25 cents a day fine, we would probably limit our library use. The other issue you bring up is online discussions. I have experienced these as a teacher and as a student, and I find them pretty worthless educationally. Is there any data I am unaware of regarding their effectiveness? They seem like “busy work” to me. And again, the teacher decided when the discussion would open and when it would close without consulting me and my schedule. She assumed that as an online student, I probably worked during the week and had the weekend free, when, in fact, my weekends were when I worked 20-30 hours. I always came in at the end on a Monday because of this. Of course, my anecdotal experience is probably skewed. I prefer to have students working together on a product, and using Google Docs I can see the contributions of each person.

        Online students are a whole different breed, and different policies probably do need to be applied. Still, you have given evidence yourself that having a late policy and giving penalties still leads to multiple late assignments causing a headache for you, so probably something more is needed. An autodialer that calls students if they have not logged in recently? I know these are used for attendance at brick and mortar schools. Why not use them for online schools? I have only taught a couple of courses that were purely online and they were small classes. It is amazing how many grandmothers die in the online student population vs. the brick and mortar population. But I really didn’t care at all. The online course was much more content focused and not so much on school skills. Heck, it could have been someone else taking the class on the other end for all I know. In that case, my job was to assess work for mastery of content, and I planned the weekend after the course was over to do my grading. Like the students, I didn’t worry much about the course until last minute crunch. :) Oh, and in the brick and mortar school, my “last minute crunch” is planned ahead of time. I always give midterms a week in advance and finals two weeks in advance. Takes the pressure off me and the students. I can spend finals week doing fun group projects and addressing any deficits that show up. Works for me, and ultimately we all have to find what works for us in our unique student populations.

      • Dan, I really like that you specify not only that you have a late penalty, but it’s at your decision as to whether it is implemented or not. I do have times when I am split between giving a student a late penalty and wanting to not give it because they’re usually pretty good about turning stuff in on time. Putting it in a syllabus as something that is at the teacher’s discretion is pretty cool.

        That’s too bad that your experience with online discussions has been so bad. I wouldn’t call them busy work, but it depends on the initial question. I’ve had some discussions where it really helped students solidify their understanding of a topic. In other cases, like you, I’ve seen it simply as busy work. I give ample time with the few discussions I do have (a week), and if students are unable to do it during that time it’s their responsibility to connect with me.

        I like the auto-dialer idea. I’ll chat with our principal to see if there’s anything like that we can get set up. The question for our school would be how would it be used. Calling for every late assignment would be annoying for any parent (though it might get the message across).

        Going back to the original argument, the statement about late penalties deflating a student’s grade brings up concerns about students no longer being graded on content knowledge, but on behavior. On the other side though, a student who doesn’t turn in any assignments all year, but then aces the final, what is to be decided about this student? He has obviously shown competency in the content knowledge, but has not shown the level of responsibility as other students. Do they Ace the class because they know the material, or fail the class because they didn’t do the work that was expected of them? Or do they get some grade in between, which once again would be a deflation based off of behavior (not turning in expected assignments).

      • I’ve struggled as well with the student that shows content knowledge but puts no effort into the class. Realistically, that student is in a class that doesn’t challenge them sufficiently. In a perfect world, we could offer them enrichment that goes beyond the curriculum by differentiating instruction, but I’ve found that difficult to maintain in a day-to-day environment. It’s the opposite problem of a student with test anxiety that does well in class work but tanks the test. I’d be interested in any ideas others have on this topic.

      • I make a distinction between material that is procedural and material that is declarative. For example, learning the capitals of the states is declarative — it is about learning facts and data. Writing an essay is procedural — you have to practice many times to get good at it. For classes that are mostly about content, I really don’t care how hard a student works. If the goal is to master a set of content and you can do that will little to no effort but ace the test, more power to you. For some kids, it’s good to have a class where you don’t have to work as hard and have more time for dance, music, etc. I have taught some classes in the past where mastering the content was the primary focus, and I really didn’t care if a student attended class, read on their own, or got the content some other way. However, my current classes are mix of content and procedure and my assignments are a mix of tests and projects with different deliverables. Students may be able to ace the test without effort, but the projects are not as easy to do without putting in the effort. The projects also allow for differentiation and adjustment more easily.

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  74. I am too Darwinian for these arguments. The fit will survive in my graduate classes. Grade deflation is the answer in this society of, “I put in a mediocre effort and deserve an A”. If you can’t make the deadlines due your own personal issues too bad. My motto has and will always be respect my class, respect my material, respect my deadlines all late work regardless of excuse is met with a zero. Is it a behavior flaw I am addressing? All you are doing is creating a workforce incapable of working under reasonable deadlines….Congrats

    • I am not sure you can blame your position on Darwin. You also seem to be missing the point of the article and the discussion. No one is advocating mediocre work or a laissez faire approach to student work. We are just recognizing that our deadlines are arbitrary, foisted upon students without much opportunity for negotiation, and things happen to make it where work is sometimes late. In the case of training the whole class to be lazy and last minute, that would be bad. But in the case of understanding the whole student and whole picture, a little flexibility is sometimes warranted. With standardized tests, students voluntarily choose those paths, have a choice of dates, have multiple options for preparation, and there are policies and procedures for changing your test date when needed. There are even procedures for if you miss your test date. And if you fail, you can retake the tests. You may effectively have a “0,” but this can be replaced when you show the proper effort. This is not the same as a student in classes with multiple assignments, multiple demands, and life getting in the way with no chance for recovery from a teacher who misunderstands his job as needing to turn students into little conformists and who demands respect he has not earned.

  75. Just as a second side note. Think about this policy’s impact on standardized tests like the MCAT and GRE. If you do not have appropriate time management skills you are not going to plan to study sufficiently for these standardized tests and you will not get into the profession that you desire simply because no one taught you appropriate time management. This is just an aside. I am an epidemiologist and have not delved into the peer-reviewed education literature sufficiently to assess this policy.

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  95. While well argued, I disagree with this idea regarding not having late penalities. While I am similar in terms of feeling that we need to focus on learning outcomes and content, school is not just a place in which students get an academic education. It is also a place that prepares them to enter the workforce and engage with other aspects of our society by learning transferrable skills.

    School isn’t about grades/grade inflation, it’s about learning. That is a bit of a hypocritical statement for me to make, because that can be taken as “well if it’s about learning, why have late penalities?” Because learning time management and organisation skills is a part of that learning, and late penalities are a reflection of not having mastered that skill.

    The reality is that late penalities are a good way of teaching students valuable time management skills and the importance of being able to meet deadlines. In the world outside of school, you have to to be able to pay your bills/mortgage on time, submit your applications (i.e. visas or banking or government etc) on time. If you are applying for a job you’ll need to meet the application deadline, or your resume will not be considered, especially within a large pool of candidates. If you’re working at a company where you have to make bids to secure a particular client amongst other competititors, you need to get those proposals/bids submitted in time. Otherwise, your bid is out, and you’ve lost your company the potential to make a profit. Even in academia, we have deadlines to meet in order to attract funding, get our journal articles published, prepare conference presentations. Each week I have a deadline of getting my lectures and tutorials prepared, and I have marking deadlines to meet every semester. Failure to do so means my job could potentially go to someone else who can do this.

    While these assignment deadlines are arbitrary or may seem as such, in particular settings they aren’t. It’s not about whether it matters if the assignment is late (who does it affect?) it’s about teaching students that lateness outside of education can seriously impact those waiting on the material. So while it may not ‘matter’ that the assignment is late (it only affects the person marking it) this way of thinking within an industry setting would be problematic. A late report could affect a range of stakeholders, clients and others working in the same business.

    I work in teritary education, and I do work with students who are having difficulties in getting their assessments in on time. I do grant extensions where needed and provide support (such as helping them get registered with the disability & liason service). I do, however, take late penalties off of late assignments, and I will not accept assignments after the faculty allotment date (currently at 10 days). I do, however, reduce my late penalities, because it’s currently set to 5% per day for 10 days (total loss of 50%) which I think is too high.

    There are consequences if you don’t meet your deadlines and penalities on late assessments are a way to teach this. Your credit card bill interest goes up, you could default on your mortgage payments, you could have trouble landing that job you want, or keeping the job you have. Not having late penalities on assignments, while a positive way towards focusing on education, neglects the value of teaching time management/organisation. Losing a percentage or two is perhaps a much nicer way to learn than losing your job.

    So my question is, if we get rid of late penalities, what are the alternatives that are available to teach time management/organisation?

    • Sorry this was a bit negative I meant to have this more positively slated.

      I think you bring up some really excellent points around lateness/learning, I just can’t see how not having any consequences can be helpful for a smooth transition into the working force.

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