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The case for accepting late work

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The case for accepting late work

The new year is a great time to reflect and make adjustments to our instruction, classroom management, and grading practices.  Accepting late work without academic penalty helps students focus on learning and develops mastery.


First, it’s essential to think about the purpose of grades.  Why do we give students grades?  Who are they for and what information do they provide?  Ultimately, the purpose of grades is to communicate (to the student and caregivers) the student’s progress toward specific learning goals.  

I encourage you to think about and write your own grading purpose statement.  This statement can help you make decisions about grading, as your actions should be in line with your purpose for grading.  

In order to communicate a student’s learning progress, grades need to be accurate and fair.  An accurate grade shows what a student knows and can do in that moment.  If a student does better over time, the most recent achievement will give the most accurate picture of what the student knows. 

Our grades also need to be fair.  There are many factors outside our control that influence student performance.  We want to make sure students’ grades are not influenced by our own biases or factors outside the students’ control. 


Outside of the classroom, we have little control in our students’ lives.  Many of our students face challenges that may prevent them from completing work by the due date.  Some students may not have parents at home or able to help with homework.  Other students may not have a safe place to complete work or the confidence and skills needed to do so independently.  Plus, some of our students have other responsibilities at home or too much stress to even think about school.  

Penalizing late work disproportionately penalizes students who fit into the above circumstances.  This can cause struggling students to fall further behind.  

Plus, penalizing late work further incentives not doing it at all.  Why try if the grade isn’t going to reflect the quality of work but instead the timeliness?  Why complete work if there’s no chance of getting a good grade? 

A late assignment reflection form (like this one) requires students to reflect and see the supports available to them.  Rather than being penalized for late work, the student is instead empowered to create a plan to complete the assignment.  This can help teachers hold students accountable while providing the support needed for success.  


It’s common to fear that students won’t try or turn anything in on time if they know they can submit assignments late.  However, when students know the teacher actually expects and requires the work to be completed, they know they can’t just slip between the cracks and take an easy zero.  Students will complete work with more effort when they know it’s their LEARNING that matters–not just completion or timeliness.  

Consider a “work habits” grade separate from the academic grade.  This would still allow you to track student timeliness but prevents late work from affecting the accuracy of the student’s academic grade.  


A “due week” rather than a “due date” provides students with some autonomy and flexibility.  As they begin to see their peers turning in assignments, students may feel encouraged to complete the work as well. 

I hope these ideas help you create a rich learning experience for your students.  Read about more ideas to improve grading practices hereNext week, I’ll share more ideas to support student mastery! 


Like these ideas? To learn classroom engagement strategies that make the most immediate impact, we recommend checking out our program, "Fostering Student Engagement."

Learn More >

Amy Jimenez

Author Since: May 8, 2018

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