April 19, 2011

Late credit

Uber edu-blogger Joanne Jacobs had a post up last week about giving -- or not giving -- a penalty for late work in school. She quotes two other edu-bloggers, pro and con. What caught my eye more than anything, however, were the comments by teacher "Cal":

I donít assign math homework. When assigning history and English homework, I make it clear that the work will be on time, and if it isnít, then theyíll will be staying in at lunch or missing any interesting classwork until itís done.

Most of my students turned in the work on time and, if they forgot occasionally, got it to me the next day or so. The students who were consistently late at first changed their behavior because they didnít like staying in at lunch and after a while, they got the idea that they were going to have to do it anyway, so may as well do it sooner rather than later.

Teacher convenience is, Iím sorry, just a ridiculous reason to use late penalties. So what if it makes your life a bit more difficult? Itís part of the job. Cope.

Later on, "Cal" calls teacher late penalties ridiculous "morality plays," and says that such is to prepare students for the real world is "nonsense."

Many other commenters address Cal's points quite aptly (especially Michael Lopez, one of my favorite all-time bloggers who now writes at Joanne's site), but I'll throw my own two cents in here.

First of all, Cal is correct in that not handing in assignments does not denote academic ability in the subject matter. The key is finding an adequate balance of assessments. But Cal's issues with late penalties have several flaws:

1) The SES (socio-economic status) of the children. He says that his students will miss lunch / any interesting classwork until late assignments are complete. My guess is that, by making this very statement, he teaches relatively well-off students where such penalties are much more easily enforced. You think such a ... demand would be effective in a tough inner-city school? Not a chance:

"Brian, you're going to have to miss lunch today so you can finish that homework assignment from three weeks ago."

"F*** you, Mr. Cal."

And that's the end of that!

2) Grade level of students. Based on the fact that Cal said he teaches multiple [diverse] subjects it's a good bet he teaches elementary school. It's certainly easier to enforce such things as a lunch detention to get past-due work done, or make kids come after school to do it. Middle schoolers and especially high schoolers are much more likely to say "screw that."

3) Teacher convenience is a legitimate issue. As Michael Lopez notes in the comments in response to Cal,

Why should you get to turn it in after the assignment is due? Should students just get to turn ALL their work in ten minutes before the teacher has to file his or her grades with the front office? Of course not. A group of students that did this would receive Fís, and rightly so, because they missed their chance to demonstrate their skill level. And why would they have missed their chance? Because teacher convenience matters, and administrative convenience matters.

Indeed. Teachers have deadlines to get interim reports done in addition to the usual report cards. Imagine if 100 students handed in a late assignment (and a lengthy one, at that) the day before report cards had to be done by the teacher. In an nutshell, there simply isn't enough time in the day to grade these assignments and get the report cards finished. Period.

4) The real world is a relevant consideration. Let's follow Cal's logic to its logical conclusion through various "real world" examples:

  • It shouldn't matter if college students hand in, let alone do, research/term papers for their classes. After all, does such an assignment really measure whether you've mastered the subject matter? Why can't you just take a test at the end of the semester to make such a determination?

  • Why does it even matter if students come to school on time? Most schools have a homeroom period at the beginning of the day where attendance is taken and whatnot. As long as the kid makes it to school before the actual subject matter day begins, right ...? And for that matter, why have late penalties for being late to class? Does one minute really make a difference? Two minutes? Even three?

  • Why does it matter if you're late to work, too? As long as you're getting your job done, right ...? And speaking of which, why would an employee have to concern him/herself with getting, say, various paperwork done at a certain time? As long as he/she knows how to do the job ...?

You can see where this is going. The real world requires punctuality quite often. There are deadlines in the real world, just as teachers have deadlines. The great NFL coach Tony Dungy wrote "Being late means itís not important to you or you canít be relied upon." I personally find it amazing that schools today are expected to be virtually everything to kids these days, yet people like Cal would not require that basic punctuality be enforced -- perhaps the most important "real world" skill needed as an adult?

I've no doubt that there are teachers -- too many, perhaps -- who assign tedious class and homework assignments with little or no real assessment value. Such has little value period let alone if a late penalty is added for it being handed in tardy. As I noted above, the key is finding a balance, so here's how I've done my grading for over 15 years:

  • Tests, quizzes and [major] projects are 60% of a student's total grade.

  • Homework and classwork are 40% of a student's total grade.

  • Virtually all homework and classwork can be corrected, and subsequently handed in again for a higher score. This enables students to recognize and rectify any errors, and get assistance on any particular problem if needed. (Yeah, it's essentially double work for me, but it's worth it.)

  • My late policy up until a few years ago was actually considered fairly liberal: A letter grade point deduction was assessed for each day late past the due date; after the 5th day it became a "zero." However, our school recently adopted a school-wide late policy of 50% credit if not turned in on the due date, and an assignment [still] becomes a "zero" if not turned after a week (five days).

Seem fair? I haven't had any complaints about it since I implemented it.

So, in conclusion, let's face it: As one "moves up the ladder" in our district, then on to college, and then the working world, the penalties for being late increase in severity. Not having tangible consequences for is doing a disservice to kids.

Posted by Hube at April 19, 2011 04:28 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Turn it in if it is complete on the due day...if it is not complete, turn it in the next day for a possible 70 - 80% maximum. Teaches responsibility. A few never get it, and their grades reflect it. Yeah, so what!

Posted by: cardinals fan at April 19, 2011 04:38 PM

Cal's approach works with children. Ruin their fun and they'll do their homework. Your approach is more suitable for adults.

Oh and in the real world schedules are often quite flexible. Show up for meetings on time, because you're a jerk to keep people waiting. Have the work done for the meeting (or be prepared to explain why not) for similar reasons. But unless there is an often legally-derived drop-dead date, you can turn in a report two days late and still get full credit.

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist at April 20, 2011 03:14 PM

To be more specific, I think it'd work with elementary school children, less with middle schoolers, and even less with high schoolers. And don't forget the other factors noted above, especially SES (in particular middle & high schoolers).

Posted by: Hube at April 20, 2011 03:19 PM