Penalties for Late Assignments

Penalties for Late Assignments

Hello Mr. Wormeli:
My colleagues and I are still wrestling with the idea of accepting papers at any time (late). I have two questions, if you wouldn't mind answering: 1) You said that late work has a penalty, correct? How much of a penalty would you suggest? 2) Does this include summative assessments or only homework? Our English department late policy (which I helped design) states that a deduction of twenty percent is taken the first day the assignment is late and fifty percent the second and final day the paper is late.

Rick’s response:

Thanks for taking the time to wrestle with all of this. Your considerations here are exactly what presenters’ dream of -- participants giving serious thought to the ideas and sharing them with others.
Here are my responses to your questions: 1) You said that late work has a penalty, correct? How much of a penalty would you suggest?

Maybe. If a student has a record of turning in assignments on time, then an extra day or two late isn't a big deal to accommodate, and it doesn't set the student back in developing a healthy respect for deadlines. Life happens, and we all need an extra hour, day, or two sometimes. To slap an "F" on anything turned in late negates the importance of the work and the student's learning the material. We're supposed to teach so that they learn not just present curriculum and document where students fall short. We teach more with mercy here than with rigid adherence to the deadline, regardless of circumstances. Even more compelling is that more integrity, more maturation and respect for deadlines is created when students miss the deadlines and then have to deal with new work, sports, family, music, household chores, church, etc. while also making up the work that wasn't done on time. It's not a special treat to do make-up work; it's a burden. Tardy students quickly learn that it's easier and wiser just to keep up with deadlines than to delay them.

If we do impose a penalty, it should be little more than a swat of the rolled-up newspaper on the puppy's nose. If it's quite dire, students do not mature; they only generate resentment towards the assignment and the teacher. The material on which they worked doesn't go into long-term memory. It's okay to take a few points off, but not so much that the grade is an inaccurate communication of what the student knows and can do regarding the standard.

Remember, too, when we are first learning something (becoming proficient), we need varying periods of practice with it. These are humans in the morphing, so learning will be uneven. To demand that every single student, given all his or her readiness (or lack thereof), obligations, and weird circumstances in life be at the exact same point in their learning at the same moment of a given day is close to malpractice. That's trying to hide behind the factory model of schooling, which we know is ineffective. We can be very demanding of adults who have achieved proficiency and been certified, such as when we expect them to meet stated deadlines. When those same adults were learning their craft, however, we would never have dreamed of reprimanding them for not learning something by the same day of the week as another person.

2) Does this include summative assessments or only homework?

The comments above apply to both formative and summative assessments. The only reason we have summative assessments, in fact, is for clerical sanity -- we have to report at the end of a given time where students are in relation to a goal so we can certify and sort students, which are not always positive aspects of education. Pedagogically, however, we never have to do summative assessments. It takes some students a few years to understand author inference while others get it within a few days. Some students have the personal background to help them make connections; others have to experience more events in life before being able to draw those connections. This doesn't matter whether it's in the coming-to-know stage (formative) or the final declarations of mastery stage (summative).
Hope this helps. Thanks again.