Accepting Late Work

Update: This blog post reflects a view I held mainly because I worked for a principal who discouraged me from taking late work (among other things that are also bad ideas). I strongly advocate for taking students’ work late now. You never know what they’re going through.  Not accepting late work, ever, for any reason, is bad teaching and unrealistic.

I want to thank everyone who responded to the poll about late work, and especially those of you who elaborated about your views in the comments on that post.  I posted that poll because I’m currently struggling with my own policy, and I needed to hear your thoughts.

Eighty-seven people responded to the poll.  Of the respondents, 62% said they take late work at a significant penalty to a grade.  I didn’t specify in the poll, and truthfully, the word “significant” could have different meanings to different people.  Some of us might consider 10% significant, while others might interpret that to mean 30%.  Another 18% of respondents said they take late work at no penalty, while 20% said they take late work only in rare and extenuating circumstances.

Currently, I fall within the 20% who only take late work in rare and extenuating circumstances.  What I mean by that is that if a student has a prolonged absence, I have taken work late.  If a student had a death in the family, I also take work late.  However, other extenuating circumstances arise for which I’ve not taken work.  Computers break, files get corrupted, printers don’t work, assignments are “forgotten.”  Sometimes teenagers are just teenagers and make poor decisions about managing their time.  I do that, too, and I’m old enough to be their mother.  Considering all I’m juggling this year, I have had more empathy with flaky reasons for not getting work done than I have in the past.  I have been grateful for the fact that my ITMA program does not have hard and fast due dates and that if I have an insane week, I don’t have to worry about the fact that I’m turning in my assignment late.  However, I have to admit that there are real-world repercussions for turning in work late.

The poll reflects my own struggle with taking late work, and some of the commenters made really good points.  I am not planning to change my policy in late March in the middle of a school year, but I am thinking that for next year, I will take late work at a penalty.  I don’t want students to feel it’s OK to turn their work in whenever they can because I will become disorganized, and I will be overburdened.  In fact, one of the reasons I decided not to take late work was that I couldn’t keep track of when it was turned in.  Of course, that’s stupid because I could just write it down when it’s turned in.  I have a make-up work policy in effect, too, and I have a hard time keeping track of how many days it’s been since a student returned.  I do it, but it causes no end of frustration on my part.

I would love suggestions for a late work/make-up work system that works.

13 thoughts on “Accepting Late Work”

  1. How about taking any late work and using standards-based grading (Marzano)? One of the standards could be "Adhere to deadlines" and the tardy student would get a low grade for that standard, but not for others. I say this because when we really think about it, we may be grading A or B papers as Fs, ONLY because they're late. Then the paper because a false representation of what the student really knows.

    1. I happen to agree that standards-based grading is a good idea, and using the standard of turning in work on time is certainly an option. I have an article at school that advocates the same thing. I will have to dig it up and publish the information so folks can locate it for further reading.

  2. I had not commented on the original poll but I thought I would throw my 2 cents into the pot. I accept all late and make-up work with full grade because frequently my students will not do the work and will be perfectly happy to take the 0. By having them do the work, I am adhering to my commitment to teaching with rigor. By requiring the student to do the work…even if it means staying in at nutrition, lunch or after-school…I am holding them accountable for the commitment they are making to being a student. So far no regrets.

  3. Last year my son was in 7th grade and OMG I swear the twilight zone followed him like a dark cloud. He would complete the work, I would see him put it in his book bag – but the work never made to the teacher. There were times when he repeated the same assignment 3xs. It affected his grade tremendously, not to mention his self-esteem. By the end of the year he was in danger of failing the 7th grade, in site of the fact he had completed the work AND had learned the content. The result was that his teachers realized he should not fail the 7th grade and he mysteriously got barely passing grades in his classes.

    I read the end of your post about not being able to track dates of when work was turned. I have a simple solution for you and for students like my son. Start letting student work the way we in the real business world work, via the web. I wish I could not just see what is due, but actually download the documents. I wish when my son completed an assignment he could email to his teacher (which would then be a. searchable and b. time stamped). We need to prepare students for the real world, and the real world is about accountability and responsibility, yes, but also about tools that make our lives so much easier.

    1. I've been through that with my own daughter. She'd do the work, then lose it. I actually think that's a common problem with middle schoolers. I do have a classroom blog where students and parents can keep track of what's going on in class. Alas, underutilized.

  4. Years ago as a new teacher, I was sent to hear a "master teacher." That woman said to us, "If the work is worth doing, isn't it worth doing late?" That's still the bar I use to judge whether something can be turned in late. Is it an assignment I used just to ensure everyone stayed engaged during a lesson? Then, no, I won't take it late. Sorry, you had to be here. It's not worth a lot numerically, don't sweat it. But an essay? A meaningful project? Why not do it late? I try to design assignments I think students need to do to gain knowledge. I usually take 10% off for being late, but in truth, I think of that master teacher often, and determine that my assignments are so worth doing, they'd be worth doing no matter what.

    I enjoy your site, by the way!

    Take care,


  5. Hi Dana:

    I missed your poll, but appreciate the topic. I've struggled with this on several levels.

    Early on, I tried to maintain the same sort of late policy as most other teachers in my department, which tended to be that late work would be accepted, but at -10% per school day.

    My first problem was that as a new teacher I'd often fall behind in grading, and I found it difficult to keep track of whether a student had or had not been absent that day, and to argue (at that late date) with students who claimed to have handed it in.

    Second, it was difficult to maintain student participation (in low-level classes) and student involvement (in high-level classes) when an assignment might be "worth" an 80, but entered as 60.

    Third, with Gradequick and iPass (and especially with iPass's iParent feature) it is difficult (even with the note function) to explain to a parent that "Yes, your child wrote an A- paper, he or she has a D- because the paper was three days late." and they would often com plain bitterly about the degree to which one late paper could affect the entire grade.

    What I've been doing lately is to incorporate timeliness into the effort grade. By entering an effort grade (10% of total) for "Paper X Rec'd On-Time" and giving it 10/10 for on time and deducting a point per day late I have made "effort" more objective, allowed assignment grades to more accurately reflect the student's ability, and improved communication and agreement/approval/cooperation between myself and parents.

  6. My current policy is that all late work is taken at a 50% penalty. It doesn't matter if it's one day late or one week late.

    Previously, I had a penalty per day late, but I found it was impossible to keep track of this.

    However, because I've been trying to reconcile the idea of giving A work an F grade because of responsibility issues, I've been trying out some alternatives. One of these is to simply eliminate most homework and have students use their class time to complete the work. I have a higher homework completion rate and because they aren't doing the work outside of class, there's no question of cheating or forgetting or computer issues.

    In regards to Sherry's comment, I've also used a classroom website to keep track of all assignments and encouraged students to email their assignments in, but it ended up being a lot of work on my end, with very little participation from students and parents. I don't know how to make the online options work better.

  7. Count me in the group which accepts late work. My students self-assess and are assessed based on standards in up to five different categories (Reading, Writing, Speaking, Research, and Academic Skills). One of the academic skills is "completes work on time," and this is the only area in which late work affects their grade on progress reports. I think in practice, it counts about 1%. However, when I note the effort grade on a progress report sent home to parents, timeliness is a major factor, and I try to make this clear in my progress report comments.

    When I taught Academic Skills, I would recommend to anyone who asked (!) that if there was a penalty for late homework in their class, that they should grade the homework as normal and note and explain that grade, then add a line at the end stating "Because this homework was x days late, you lose y points and therefore the grade I am recording is z."

  8. I am currently a sophomore in college, and I am getting my degree in Secondary Education English/Spanish/ESL. In highschool I was a good student, I never turned in homework late. So I never understand why some students did not hand in their work at all. But if students knew their A paper may recieve an F just becuase it was late, then I see why they did not even attempt the assignment. I agree that work worth doing is work worth doing late! Maybe students could be allowed a total of three late assignments without punishment and then after that a large percentage of the grade will be deducted for late work. I don't know it is just a suggestion, becuase lets face it. THINGS HAPPEN! Also, as someone who just recently left the world of being a high school student, I do feel strongly that teachers who decided to implent severe punishments for late work, must make sure that they NEVER EVER get behind even the slightest on their grading. I had a teacher in high school who would not accept a late research paper unless (these are his/her exact words) "You are on your death bed". The high school I went to had block scheduling, and this same teacher who did not accept late work at all, also took the entire next semester plus ALL SUMMER to grade our research papers. That is just wrong. If students are required to have work in by a certain date then teachers should make sure to hand back work in a timely fashion. In my opinion that would a week or less.

    1. Annalise, you make a very good point about returning work. If teachers expect work on time, then they should return evaluated work in a timely manner. As an English teacher, I have that struggle. It's down to planning. Sometimes I do not plan wisely and wind up with a lot of essays to grade. Given the time it takes to give feedback for each, I am guilty of sometimes hanging on to papers for well more than a week, but certainly not as long as a semester and summer! I wonder how the teacher was able to do that given the fact that everywhere I've worked, grades had to be turned in prior to summer. At any rate, a week or less may not always be doable, but I think two weeks is fair (I say this knowing that occasionally it takes me longer than two weeks). I also like your idea of a three strikes and you're out rule. Things happen for sure, and I have appreciated the grace period given me in grad school. The trouble for teachers might be keeping track of that kind of thing. I know I need to be much more meticulous if I were to adopt a similar policy.

  9. I set a deadline for assignments, and submissions handed in at that time will be returned by the next class.

    Students can hand in work at any point within the unit plus a week without being docked marks. A week after the unit ends, I will not take in work.

    I do not consider this docking marks for late work. I consider it a standard the student chose not to complete.

  10. im just wondering if it is fair not to accept late work for my situation.

    im taking french this year and i am a good student and i always hand my work in on time but i have recently been put into a group to film a project. two of my group members were responsible and showed up to do their parts but one didn't. i did some of my parts in the film but he needs to be in certain scenes with me. my teacher told us that if it was not complete for tomorrow, we would receive a zero. today he came but he was fooling around too much and wasted all my camera batteries and i don't have a recharger for it. i also have a science test, a socials newspaper, and a socials play all due for tomorrow. i would have completed my socials projects earlier but they were group projects also and i had to wait for my group to send me their parts. i know i can complete the socials projects and study for my science test tonight but i know i cannot finish editing my french video tonight.

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