Late policy ruminations

Another teacher asked me for my late policy a few days ago. I’d been trying to recruit teachers from my building to work with something like my late policy. Everyone in the building has different standards and processes, so the students don’t have any coherent expectation of what a late policy should be. Mostly they are used to being able to turn in a ton of late work or re-taken tests in the last couple of weeks of the semester to save their grade. My own stepson pulled this off at his high school, so I knew how irritating it looked from a parent point of view. Still, it was quixotic of me to expect other teachers to change their personal proclivities that they have built up over the years.

I see 6 main reasons for having a late policy.

  1. Lessons in a class come in an intended order if the teacher is competent. Assignments build on each other. It makes a lot more sense when a student completes an assignment before they move on to the next topic. Students need to be prodded to do things at the proper time so that they can actually learn as much as the teacher has organized for them to learn.
  2. Students procrastinate and they often let work pile up until they have an daunting pile. They then shut down, flail, and fail. A late policy is a prod to avoid this.
  3. Some students, and it is not a small percentage, know that if they turn in work late they can take advantage of other students’ graded and turned-back work. Or the intentionally late students know that they teacher is going to discuss the work the day or the day after it is turned in. In this case, the late penalty removes the incentive for students to effectively cheat by stalling.
  4. Being organized is a key part of what a teacher is modeling and teaching. So a late policy prods students to learn to be organized.
  5. Getting one’s work done on time is a job skill, and teachers should teach that skill.
  6. As a step-parent, I found it maddening that my stepson could let giant piles of work accumulate and then turn it all in at the end of the semester. I had trouble explaining to my stepson why to do work on time when most of his teachers made no policy decision to require him to work in a timely fashion.

I decided to only let students turn in 3 late assignments per quarter. That would be about 10-15%  of all the assignments I give. Most students have no problem with keeping within this number, though they do tend to burn their late assignment quota on essays.

Furthermore, I set a three-week moratorium on late work. This is intended to keep students from turning in preposterously late work that is entirely decontextualized from what they are learning. I rarely bother to enforce this, but occasionally I do go through my web-based grade book and mark assignments as “too late to turn in.”

The final thing, and the the key part for my purposes, is that I won’t give an assignment more than 75% of the points if it is late. That deals with the cheating-by-stalling issue I described above and it keeps students pressured to stay caught up with their work. For a long time I subtracted 25% of the possible points from late work, but that practice was too punitive. Students would turn in honestly done average work and fail. Just capping the possible earned points hurts the lazy skilled students and it limits the success of cheating, all without doing too much damage to student’s grades, especially those of middle or low-skilled students.

Honestly, I find this late policy way too easy. I’d be irritated if I was a parent of a student in my class. That said, a lot of students have a lot of issues. This loose late policy might give them a bit too much rope, but it doesn’t accidentally strangle the grade of a student who needs some slack. Importantly, this late policy doesn’t lead me to catch much flack at all from parents and administrators. The last thing I need is a bevy of end-of-semester parent-teacher conferences or angry email exchanges. The slack saves my energy for where it needs to be: teaching.

The final issue, and one that I have no idea how to address, is the question of work that becomes late due to excused or unexcused absence. At public high schools, in my experience, attendance is awful. Kids miss, skip, have in-school counseling or nurse appointments, participate in sports, etc. so often that it is rare to have a regular class with more than 85% attendance on any given day. Some parents excuse everything and some excuse nothing. Some students don’t have parents who bother with excuses or are in a position to excuse absences. When I distinguished about excused absences, I often felt I was grading parenting more than students work. So do I count work that comes in late only because of an unexcused absence as “late?” With so many missing students on any given day, it would be a real waste of time to try to keep track of whose absence was excused and whose was unexcused. I know kids skip to get another day to work and the parents often excuse those absences. So basically I just don’t pay attention to excused versus unexcused absences anymore.

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Posted in teaching practice

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