Tag Archives: late penalties

This I Believe


As I have been involved in some interesting and at times, contentious, discussions about grades over the last few weeks, I thought that this would be a good place to reaffirm my beliefs about grading. I agree that the ideal would be narrative feedback only K-16, and I am a great fan of colleges like Alverno in Milwaukee. However, for the foreseeable future, grades will be required in almost all colleges and high schools, many middle schools, and some elementary schools. I believe we should continue to try to move not having grades as high up the grade levels as possible, but we also have to fight to make traditional grades better — more accurate, meaningful, consistent, and supportive of learning. So this is what I advocate: Continue reading

Redefining Accountability

By Tom Schimmer105046605 - New Photo #2

The issue of accountability often serves as a source of tension between those on either side of the grading reform ledger. For those still not sure about a move toward standards-based grading, the pushback often centers on the notion that “students need to be held accountable!” To be clear, the collective movement toward standards-based grading is not some misguided attempt to make school easier for students or to relieve students of their responsibility to fully invest themselves in their own learning. In truth, most would agree that students need to be held accountable, but the difference is that standards-based grading establishes a new kind of accountability.

For some, the term accountability is code for punishment, which sounds harsh, so the word consequence is often used as a substitute to present the illusion of a more logical response. As thinking goes, punishments need to be applied by adults whereas consequences are the natural result of student missteps. Either way, this version of accountability is a distraction that focuses on the student’s behavior (not learning) and compromises the validity (accuracy) of what is ultimately reported about student proficiency. While some may philosophically justify this approach, philosophical justifications aren’t enough to neutralize the role this version of accountability plays in diminishing the meaning and clarity of the grades student earn.

What is needed is a new definition of accountability where all learning is mandatory. With late penalties, struggling students have almost no incentive to complete essential learning activities after three or four days. Give a student a zero and, if he or she is still passing as a result, it is unlikely that the work will ever get turned in; that’s not accountability. The irony is that while many claim standards-based grading makes it easier for students, the traditional accountability practices actually do more to make school easier by rendering essential learning as optional. Real accountability doesn’t allow students to opt out of what is essential nor does it allow students to play a numbers game to decide which assignments need to be completed and which ones do not.

Punishing irresponsibility doesn’t teach anyone how to be responsible; it only teaches someone that they should have been responsible, but it doesn’t teach them how. If the life lesson of responsibility is that important, we would be proactive in teaching responsibility in the same way we teach math, ELA, or any other subject. As a point of comparison, we don’t use the threat of lower scores to teach respect. Almost every school expects students to be respectful, holds students accountable when they are disrespectful, but never needs the gradebook to do so; responsibility can be handled the same way. What a student knows and when they hand their teacher something are two different constructs–both important, just different. If you want students to learn how to be responsible, teach them. Playing the life lesson trump card because we’re annoyed that a student was non-compliant is no way to ensure the accuracy of what is reported or to establish a culture of optimism about learning moving forward.

I am looking forward to sharing more on this topic at the Pearson-ATI Sound Grading Practices Conference (Dec. 4-5, 2014) in my session entitled “Redefining Accountability.” In addition to my keynote address, “Grading from the Inside Out,” I will also be presenting “Reassessment the Right Way and Effective Leadership for Standards-Based Grading.”

If you’re unable to attend the conference, please take some time to follow the hashtag #ATIcon on Twitter while the conference is in session.

More on Late Work

Recently a teacher wrote in liking our post on late work but had the following question: “How can my feedback be effective if student work isn’t timely? How can I be expected to give late work the same attention as work that comes in on time?” This is a very real concern for teachers when considering whether or not to eliminate late penalties in their assessment practices.

Tom Schimmer writes:

The question about teacher time is an important one that can’t be ignored. In order for any new practice to be successful in the long term, we need sustainable routines or we risk “burnout.” No late-penalties doesn’t mean no deadlines, however. When deadlines are missed, we need both an individual response and a “system” response in order to make sure that students are as current as possible. Some quick points…I’ll try to be brief.

1) Distinguish between “can’t do” and “won’t do” issues. A “can’t do” means the student actually doesn’t fully understand what to do to complete the work. A “won’t do” is not necessarily outright refusal; however, it does mean that the student knows what to do but hasn’t done it. Each of those requires a slightly different response.

2) “Won’t dos” need a place to go (AM/at lunch/PM) to complete the missing work. Who supervises, who confirms attendance, etc. are all “system” questions that principals and teachers have to come together on. If they “no-show,” then who gets the referral? Is it a “code of conduct” issue? Something else? “Can’t dos” need further instruction and, therefore, need a different response from the teacher.

3) In the schools I’ve worked in, we set an unwritten guideline of two weeks. That meant that we wanted work to be missing for no longer than two weeks. We actually preferred one week, but knew there would always be extenuating circumstances and/or the scope of what’s missing may take longer.

4) Ask yourself whether the missing “evidence” is necessary or whether the standard(s) addressed in the missing work will be addressed again very soon. I call this overlapping evidence. Taking a standards-based approach means we look at “meeting standards” and not necessarily “getting everything done.” For example, missing homework could likely be covered on an upcoming quiz, so it might not be necessary for students to complete all of the homework as you know you will be assessing the very same standards shortly after. The big question with missing work is this: Is this piece of evidence necessary for me to accurately assess the student’s level of proficiency? If yes, then you need it; if no, move on.