Saturday, April 09, 2011

Late penalty

So I ran across a teacher’s blog with these polling questions.  They were about teacher late work policies, and ran something like this:

What are your homework late policies like?

A:  Late work takes a 50% penalty

B:  Late work takes a 25% penalty

C:  I don’t accept late work

D:  I give my students a grace period, like the real world, because the work matters in reality. 

Oh please.  One guess which answer was supposed to be the correct one.  Oh yeah, that answer wasn’t mine.  I don’t accept late work, period.  I tried the “50% due the next day” thing and all it did was create a lot more work for me to keep track off, and an out for students that weren’t very focused.  I ended it when I had a long conversation with a former vice-principal on a van-ride home from a basketball game.  His two recommendations where to give students a lot of autonomy in allowing them to direct their own learn, and then hold them accountable for meeting the goals and deadlines required by the course.  He was right on both accounts.

I also ran into this post by Tom Schimmer that goes through why late policies are bad for the classroom.  His thesis?

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:

Some students predictably struggle with deadlines. Once a due date has been given, most teachers can predict which students will be on-time and which students will be late. We know that most students will meet the deadlines.  If most don’t, then there is likely a flaw in the assignment.  The few that struggle with deadlines need support, not penalties.  The other aspect is that we already know (to a certain degree) who is going to be late.  Think about that…we can predict they’ll be late, but do we act to ensure the learning and/or assignment is on track?  Most students like deadlines and the organization and pacing they provide.

This is a fantastic way to not prepare students for the realities of the real world.  I’m going to disagree with Mr. Schimmer and say that most students that don’t hand in work on time don’t do so because they need support, because most teachers offer that support.  Instead, most students don’t hand in work because they chose to do something else.  A student that struggles with deadlines needs to learn that they are necessary.  Just try asking the credit card companies for support.

Quality work should trump timeliness. Would you rather a student hand-in high quality work late or poor quality work on-time? Now I know that in an ideal world every student would complete all assignments correctly and hand them in on time, but I choose quality and I think you would too.  We have spent far too much time in education focusing on the things that sit on the periphery of learning.  Meeting a deadline is a good thing – even a great thing – but it doesn’t have anything to do with how much Math or Social Studies you understand!

I think you can work with students that need extra time.  However veteran teachers should have assignment timing down after a few years and again, quality and timing need to be given equal measure.  A boss is not going to give forever to complete a goal for the company, no matter how good of an employee he/she is.  We have deadlines for testing for God’s sake!  When you take away the deadline, you allow for the pressure of scarcity to be relived in this environment while incorrectly preparing the student about the pressures of “out there”.  Not wise.

The flood is a myth! No, not that flood.  The flood of assignments at the end of the year that you think you are going to get; it won’t happen, at least that wasn’t my experience.  In fact, in every school I’ve worked in where teachers eliminated their late penalties they did not experience the flood. As I said above, most students like deadlines and not having a late penalty doesn’t mean you don’t set deadlines and act when they are not met; just don’t distort their grade by artificially lowering it.

I think Schimmer is right about the flood being a myth.  I’ve found that it is more like a mass of river tributaries that takes valuable time and energy addressing while you could be doing something more productive.  Late penalties are not penalties as much as they are opportunities that were missed because of bad decision making.

We don’t ‘add’ for early. When I’ve asked teachers who have late penalties why they don’t add 10% per day for early assignments they usually say something like, “I couldn’t do that.  That would inflate their grade and wouldn’t be accurate.” I think they’ve just answered their own question.  The exact same logic as to why adding-for-early is not appropriate applies to late penalties; the logic of inaccuracy.

I don’t really see the point in this argument.  The reward for getting done earlier is the benefit of using your human capital to do something else.  “If I get the assignment done, I can hang out with friends”. 

Behavior & Learning must be kept separate. Inaccuracy comes when we start to include student attributes into reporting.  Not handing in work on time has nothing to do with what they know; it reflects what they haven’t done.

And THAT’S THE PROBLEM IN A NUTSHELL!  Are we arrogant or naïve enough to believe that school is primarily about subject matter?  Do you really think that the main thing my Seniors will learn is the value of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890?  No.  It is the value of hard work and the ability to successfully follow instructions that result in a beneficial outcome.  The assignment goes beyond simple “what do you know about x” and becomes a lesson in decision making, bringing questions to the teacher, and being responsible enough to finish a set goal.  Being late with assignments have consequences, just like being late with payments or for your job interview or for a date with the woman that may be the love of your life.  

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