"Marks off for late work? What matters more?"

A hat tip to Tom Schimmer for his inspirational post, “Enough with the Late Penalties!

Tom says,

“… 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…

… 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…”   (Go read the whole post!)

I wrote the following in a comment on Tom’s post, but I’d like to contribute more to it.

I’m a principal now, but I wrote this 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.”

~ That’s from Footnote 1 on this post: Edupunk or Educational Leader?

Here is a bit more I’d like to add:

I used to surprise kids when they would come to me for an extension and I’d say to them, “OK, how much more time do you need?”

They would usually respond with ‘Tomorrow’ and I’d say, “Are you sure? How about you take one more day and make sure it’s your best work?”

If 2 days later, I didn’t think they tried hard enough, we sat down and discussed how they could have improved it, which often led to another extension. If there was a second time we had to go through this, seldom was their ‘late’ work needing another consultation… outcomes achieved, lesson learned… and no marks off.

I remember one specific time when I gave ‘Student A’ an extension, and ‘Student B’ said, “No fair, he gets more time.” So, I went to the hand-in pile, took out Student B’s work and said, ‘How much time do you need?’  The offer wasn’t taken, but the opportunity was there.

When kids aren’t prepared for a group presentation, well then to me that’s where the lessons are learned as per Tony Celini’s comment on Tom’s post about the value of deadlines. There are times and places for the “Deadlines Matter” lesson to be taught, but in the grand scheme of things that’s not a lesson we need to teach with every assignment.

Truth be told, I was a master of getting extensions-with-no-marks-off all the way through university, (as mentioned with a few other confessions in my Edupunk post).  I even escaped marks off in a course where the professor’s first 40 minute lesson was punctuated repeatedly with “10% daily penalties for everything late without a doctor’s note or for compassionate reasons through the official process only” – I handed something in on the Tuesday after it was due on the previous Friday and got “No marks off for honesty” written on the top of the page as I handed it in. I was that good. However, (and this is a key point), as an adult ‘in the real world’, I think I’ve done a pretty good job meeting deadlines.

So we don’t ‘need’ to take marks off assignments to teach kids a lesson… but if that isn’t reason enough, how about the fact that ‘lateness’ isn’t the criteria we are trying to measure!

Here is a Comparative Civilizations 12 Learning Outcome:

It is expected that students will:
Communicate their knowledge and understanding about civilizations by using effective written, oral, and graphic communication skill

Where is the ‘late penalty clause’? I don’t see it. And if you take marks off for it being late, well then what does that mark tell you? How does it inform you of the student’s understanding? Learning Outcomes don’t come with teacher timelines only semester timelines.

On a slightly different note, why even give a mark? What does 62% tell you about a student’s ability to communicate their knowledge and understanding? But then that’s a whole other topic.  See Joe Bower’s Grading Moratorium!

If a kid hands a resume and job application form in late for a Career and Planning course assignment, then I think there is just cause for marks off, and this might be one example of where a big fat ‘zero’ might actually be meaningful. But in the end, most marks off for lateness are simply ‘off the mark’ because they do not tell you anything about the progress of the child and their learning in the class you are teaching them in.

Thanks again for the thought-provoking post Tom!

10 comments on “Late penalties are ‘off the mark’

  1. David,
    Your examples are great to make your point: Not all assignments are worthy of a late penalty yet some are. Therein is a statement that speaks to the education of situations. There are absolutely times when a late penalty are necessary and many that are not. I know of someone who was volunteering in a rural part of South Africa with no internet. He was actually granted an interview for medical school while away and helping to make the world a better place. However in being in such a remote place, he didn’t check his email which is one of the taken-for-granted things nowadays. When he did finally reply, it was too late and he was shocked to have received the “sorry” reply. He even phoned the university and pleaded his case but still to no avail. The point, there are times that a deadline is hard, and others where in the big picture a deadline really doesn’t make for a significant learning experience. As Tom said in his post, taking off late marks has not stopped worked from coming in late, for decades! As for the “preparing students for the working world” argument, students are not paid to come to school so they simply won’t behave 100% in the way they will when they are paid. When they are paid to do a job, that will definitely shape their behaviour towards their work.
    Thanks for the great examples and post!

  2. David, I would tend to agree on assignments like papers, but in an online environment (which is how I teach), one uses time lines to keep students together as a learning community. If in a 15 week class there were no deadlines, then students might be all over the place, resulting in a class that shifts from a community co-exploring a topic to a bunch of individuals taking a correspondence course. So it seems that this issue is not a black or white one, but has shadings of grey.

  3. Thanks for your comment Bernie and Brit!

    I almost edited my post to put the following video in, but now I think I’ll just add it here in the comments:

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

    That’s a great story to tell students to help them understand the value of a deadline!

    I am all for having deadlines, and in fact think they should be steady and consistent. The key thing is that when a student does not meet that deadline, that ultimately they are held accountable and there is follow-up.

    You have the challenge of not being able to hold a student ‘in’ to get the work done, and so less leverage to use other than using the mark as a weapon (or should I say ‘tool’ or ‘incentive’?) to get the work done. Furthermore, if a community fully explores an idea and then someone comes to the conversation late, there is not a lot that they do to contribute to what was said… but does their contribution demonstrate learning and understanding?

    I agree things are indeed shades of grey, but I wonder how we can hold students accountable to ‘get the work done’ without then having a cumulative addition of number-of-days-late being a significant factor in finding a mark? …A mark which should represent their understanding rather than their penalty.

  4. Ok David,
    As someone who just marked a student project as late this week, I understand and agree with much of what you are saying, but… These were long term projects- assigned in Nov, due last week. I have a rubric for the kids- one criteria is meeting deadlines. They have a deadline to get their research done, one for a first draft and one for a final draft. I make these deadlines to help structure their workload- otherwise these 8th graders would try to pull it all off in 2 days. I want them to do their best work, but honestly feel like I would not serve them well if I allowed them to miss their deadlines.

  5. Hi Maureen,

    Thank you for your comment!

    Deadlines are extremely valuable… especially for a project like yours where it is over a long period of time! The formative evaluation and incremental due dates are far more meaningful than just looking at a BIG final project, (wether or not it is rushed to be completed in the last 2 days!) I taught 8th graders for 7 years… I can relate.

    I guess part of my learning curve included a) making a missed deadline uncomfortable enough that a kid would rather not miss it, and b) Getting to the root of some of the issues and differentiating the task so that it still meets learning outcomes but may be more interesting even if it looks different for a student, and c) Realizing that some kids need special accommodations, such as a kid with a brutal home life not being expected to do homework & providing in-class & school-time support. Etc.

    …And despite this, I don’t for a moment pretend I was effective with every student and always got things in on time. But with those chronic kids the work was often poor enough that there was no need to dock marks for lateness anyway… I was just happy to see them demonstrate the learning outcomes. They weren’t tardy and bringing home ‘A’s and ‘B’s.

    Deadlines matter! I just question the default of ‘marks off for late work’ as an effective and/or educationally sound means of providing meaningful assessment.

  6. Some really good points about late work, but each time I always bring it back to the fact that we have a specific mark that reflects work habits: the Work Habits mark, GSN. It is there, right next to the grade. It is one that we specifically refer people to when talking about a child’s performance. Whose fault is it most universities do not factor it in for GPA? Do employers ask to see report cards and look at the work habits? IF there are many students who are not completing assignments, is the teacher looking at the assignments being given and reflecting on the quality, quantity and level of interest?
    Deadlines matter. There are consequences to late assignments given. In most cases, employers do not dock wages for assignments missed or handed in late, they may give letters of expectations or reprimands depending on the severity. We give I’s and have conversations with parents. We are in the teaching and learning game, not the apprentice nor are we Donald Trump. We don’t fire kids, we bust our collective backsides trying to find ways to get the students excited and motivated about wanting to complete their work.

  7. […] David Truss recently posted a fantastic commentary on a blog post by Tom Schimmer entitled: Enough with the Late Penalties. The subject is about late penalties in school. Essentially the argument they both make is that if you examine the objectives of most courses, rarely is there an objective that relates to punctuality or ability to meet deadlines. If this is the case then why do the large majority of courses issue marks (i.e. penalties!) to students based on when they hand in their work? It’s a fantastic argument that I feel is very thought provoking.[…]

  8. I have been following this debate. My head agrees with everything said. Marks should reflect whether learning outcomes have been met. There is a work habit mark to reflect work habits which would cover such things as late work. I get that. But….I have to say over the past 7 years as my children have gone through middle and highschool, I have watched as they sacrificed many fun occasions to stay home and finish off assignments. Other students missed deadlines not because they needed more time to meet learning outcomes, but because they chose to make school a lower priority. I guess it doesn’t bother me when an extension is given to an individual student who needs it to be able to meet the learning outcomes. But when a dealine for a whole class is changed because a majority of the students chose to hang out at the mall rather than work on the assigned project, I feel we are sending the wrong message. I saw this happen countless times. It is especially prevelant at the middle school level. Teachers would extend the deadline, and then give classtime to finish the assignment. So the kids who had worked hard and had gotten the work done got to do silent reading in class.

  9. I take no points off for being late in tech class. I grade what I have and students can resubmit for a better grade until the trimester runs out. When I started that ten years ago, colleagues said I’d end up grading everything twice. Not true. The kids who want to work hard, improve, are the same ones who prepare and turn things in on time. The ones who redo or turn in late are usually the ones with legitimate reasons–sick, didn’t get it, etc. I believe it’s allowed them to enjoy technology more, come in for help more often and not be so afraid of it. And parents love it, which is important in a private school (though not the reason I’d do it).

    I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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