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Should Students’ Grades Be Lowered for Lateness?

Recently I read a Tweet about the topic in the titular question of this post. It engendered a spirited but short lived flurry of posts. I’d like to spend a few more minutes reflecting on the topic here.

Authentic Learning & Teaching

As an educator, I try to base my decisions on a principle of authenticity. In other words, I try to make my decisions more on real-world norms than traditional school norms. I try to ensure that I am preparing students for the world beyond school, not for school. As a result, I try to make sure that the ways in which I assess students’ work is similar to the ways in which they would be assessed in a professional situation.

There are times when a professional can absolutely not be late: grant applications, proposals for conferences/speaking, . . . I’m not sure I can come up with a third example to make a series.

But adults can be late with almost anything else: publication deadlines, job evaluations, doctor’s appointments, taxes–even most bills have a grace period.

So if we are going to treat students authentically, we have to decide: Is this assignment one those things that absolutely cannot be late, or is it like most things which can allow some lateness?

How Does This Work?

I generally do not lower grades for lateness. There is one exception I can think of: take-home tests. For them, medical documentation is required to allow lateness. For other substantial assignments, here are my rules:

  1. Students must turn an assignment on time or submit medical documentation demonstrating why they couldn’t complete the assignment on time.
  2. If students require additional time, they must contact me PRIOR to the deadline to request an extension. I almost always grant an extension, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me. Virtually any reason works for me: I have had too many nights at work; too much work in other classes; I’ve been sick; I’ve had writer’s block; I’m confused about the assignment; I want more time because I know I can do a better job on this. As long as a student hasn’t made a habit of asking for more time, no problem.
  3. I negotiate the extended deadline with the student. I say, “What is the soonest, reasonable day by which you can do a good job on this assignment?” Assuming that date seems reasonable to me, I accept it. Interestingly enough, I often have to encourage students to take a little more time than they originally suggest.
  4. Students may NOT miss the extended deadline. If they miss it, I do not accept the assignment at all (without medical documentation).

The above rules almost always work out well. Very few students ask for extensions, and those who do virtually always meet the extended deadline. I find this fairly reasonable, authentic approach to deadlines works out well.

Possible Negatives

There are some who may say my approach encourages laziness or lack of attention to deadlines, but I don’t think it does. It does require a certain amount of maturity on the students’ part, and I try to use my meetings with them to help them develop that maturity. This approach may not work with younger students. And, if a teacher is so busy and has so many students that s/he can’t be this flexible with deadlines, this approach may not work either. But that doesn’t mean grading students down for turning in late work is a better alternative. It may be a less positive approach that is an understandable requirement of an overworked teacher.

What do you think? Does allowing students to renegotiate deadlines improve education, or does it encourage bad habits? What other aspects of late grades am I leaving out? What other approaches have you found useful? Please feel free to contribute your responses with comments.



9 thoughts on “Should Students’ Grades Be Lowered for Lateness?”

  1. I used to draw a hard line, but about 5 years ago I changed my policies so they aligned with our school policy. Basically our school policy said that if a student was receiving a D or an F we had to let them make up lost points.

    My policy now allows for latework with no penalty to a student grade, but the late work is still coded as late in the grade book. Their consequence is their own personal time, which most of them do not want to give up. When they want their zero out of the grade book they need to come see me before or after school on their own time and “hang out” with me until their grades are updated. Towards the end of a grading period there might be a line, and I remind students of this. I also post my “office hours” for them.

    What I have learned is:
    1. That students generally try harder on their late assignments because they do have the ability to earn full points and they do not feel defeated before they even begin.
    2. These opportunities give me an opportunity to talk to the students one on one about why their work is late, their work, etc…
    3. I no longer have piles of late work at the end of a grading period. Major bonus!
    4. I rarely hear from parents/students asking me when the grade book will be updated.

    I began this policy for one reason, but I encourage its use for a very different reason. If what I assign is meaningful and important for students I feel that their full effort on the assignment along with a meaningful grade should be important as well.

    1. Meredith, Thank you for your reply. This is a BRILLIANT approach! I love that you are asking students to sit their while you take the time to respond to their work. It shows the students respect, and it takes their time. This is very much the way the REAL world works. Thank you for taking the time for this post! -Ken

  2. Ken, thank you for this! I use your approach too–and students are often surprised at it. But for me, the important thing is that students connect with the material and understand it–and that they come to understand how they learn best. In that way, they are the agents of their own learning.

  3. plthomasedd – Greenville, SC – P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a former column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English), current series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Brill), and author of Teaching Writing as Journey, Not Destination: Essays Exploring What ‘Teaching Writing’ Means (IAP, 2019) and How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students: A Primer for Parents, Policy Makers, and People Who Care (IAP, in press). NCTE named Thomas the 2013 George Orwell Award winner. He co-edited the award-winning (Divergent Book Award for Excellence in 21st Century Literacies Research) volume Critical Media Literacy and Fake News in Post-Truth America (Brill, 2018). Follow his work @plthomasEdD and the becoming radical (
  4. Pingback: More Thoughts on Feedback, Grades, and Late Work – the becoming radical

  5. Thanks, Sue. I think you are spot on about this ultimately being all about respect. I find students usually apologize for asking for more time because they think it will put me out (and sometimes it does). When I have less mature students, I try to make sure they understand they are inconveniencing me, but I don’t mind because I want to support them. I try to do that without GUILTING them! Describing this as “standards-based” grading is a good, accurate idea, too. It’s about the success of the writing, not when it was turned in.

  6. I agree with you and really admire your approach. I would bet the students really respect that you are treating them so respectfully. If educators keep the focus on the work itself, and the learning that comes from doing the assigned, and keep that as the most important thing, then deadlines become secondary. It seems many educators are hell-bent on “teaching these kids a lesson”. The lesson they learn is that rushing and doing something half-assed and getting it in on time is more important than doing a quality job, perhaps taking extra time, and really understanding the material well. They also learn that many teachers are about power. Remarks like” I expect half this class to fail”, paint all of us in a bad light. Standards-based grading is a step in the right direction, if it is steeped in respect.

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