Meeting deadlines is considered a life skill that all students much have. For this class, students are expected to turn in all work by the due date. Assignments that are turned in late will be subject to the following penalty: 10 points (one letter grade) will be deducted for every day the assignment is late. Assignments that are more than three days late will not be accepted for a grade, NO EXCEPTIONS!

If you are a secondary teacher, chances are the above statement may look familiar to you as a way teachers often approach the grading of late work. The debate over whether to charge students a penalty for late work is not new to American education. For years, proponents have argued that a penalty is the best way to hold students accountable for meeting deadlines, a lifelong skill.

Opponents like Rick Wormeli (see the video above) argue that assigning penalties changes the true meaning of grades — to report academic achievement and progress. He goes on to suggest submitting work late is a behavior, and invoking penalties is not a productive or effective way to help adolescents change behavior.

Last month, ASCD's Chad Donohue renewed this long-standing debate in the article "Road Tested: Five Classroom Practices That Uphold Student Dignity." He approached the argument by appealing to the human side of grading.

"Students already deal with a wide array of stressors, including multiple 'home' addresses, blended families, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, dependency on electronics, and social anxiety, to name a few," Donohue writes. "With mounting pressure to fit in and navigate the school environment, students need teachers and administrators who are committed to lessening — not increasing — their burdens."

He went on to talk about his experiences as a teacher who accepts late work with no penalty.

"By accepting late work, I place more value on the learning than the deadline. Contrary to outdated mantras, the world is more flexible, and employers adjust deadlines," Donohue writes. "Quality takes precedence over punctuality. A small deduction may apply if a student turns in an assignment past the due date, but I still accept late work. Not accepting late work is like not requiring someone to pay a bill once it's past due. Such gotcha tactics are absurd. We must make room for students whose lives render arbitrary mandates regarding rigid deadlines unrealistic."

Two years ago, in an article for the blog Competency Works, I wrote about the importance of accepting late work without penalty and what happens when an entire school adopts this philosophy for all of their students, in all of their courses. Several years ago, the teachers in my high school came together to adopt several common grading expectations designed to promote the vision that grades are not about what students earn, they are about what students learn.

One of these expectations focused on the acceptance of late work. Our school believes turning in work late is an example of student misbehavior, and is addressed by the adults in the school in the same way that we would address any other types of classroom misbehavior with traditional consequences like detentions and phone calls home, with a loss of privileges in the classroom or school, or with other ore-progressive restorative justice models.

We do not alter our academic grades and water them down by including penalties for students for their academic misbehavior. Our teachers strongly believe academic grades must remain pure. Our common school grading expectations address late work in this way:

Students are expected to complete all major summative assignments in a timely manner. Students who refuse to complete an assignment on time will receive classroom and/or school-level disciplinary consequences. The grade for that assignment or the overall course will be recorded as Insufficient Work Shown (IWS) until the student completes the work. The teacher will work with the student and their parents to resolve the issue as soon as possible. After 10 schools days, if the student does not submit the work, the grade for that assignment may remain as an IWS which would carry a weight of zero. This may impact both competency scores and the overall course grade. An IWS final grade equals no credit for a course.

Our system is by no means perfect, and it actually still leaves an opportunity for a student not to submit an assignment, but that rarely happens. In our school, we take an "all hands on deck" approach with the adults to do whatever we can do to make sure assignments are submitted in a timely manner.

It doesn't take too long before students realize they aren't going to be off the hook from doing assignments, so they do them! Deadlines are an important life skill for students to have, and we think we have found a way to effectively hold students accountable for this while also maintaining our goal of having grades accurately reflect what our students know and are able to do.