Back in February, Tom Shimmer outlined some of the arguments against late penalties in a post, and they reflect the main argument I’ve heard again and again: students should be evaluated on the learning they can demonstrate, not punctuality. I don’t, in principle, disagree with this argument. It would be ideal if I could get a direct measurement of a student’s learning without any interference from other factors.
However, I’m not sure this is ever possible. Can the learning of specific skills and material in a specific domain be separated from everything else? This has always struck me as weirdly compartmentalized. Yes, I know the student is supposed to demonstrate the achievement of competencies – for example, she can identify a specific theme from a text she’s read, or she can write a sentence that correctly uses the present perfect. But in most evaluations, these skills are inextricably bound up with other things. For example, if a student can identify a clear theme in her own mind but can’t state it in a way that an intelligent reader can understand, how can she get full points for that criterion? If she writes a paragraph in which the present perfect is required, and uses the present perfect correctly throughout but botches all her other verb tenses, does she get 100% for the paragraph?
Maybe. The question becomes murkier when we talk about evaluating skills and behaviours that cross disciplines. If I am a history teacher, do I evaluate my students’ ability to write correct English in their history papers? Should this count toward some portion of their grade? Yes, many educators will insist, because literacy and clear communication are cross-disciplinary skills.
Aha. In that case, could it be argued that carrying work out in a timely manner – as one will inevitably have to do in any job, whether it involve writing memos or changing diapers – is also a cross-disciplinary skill? Should this be one of the competencies addressed in their course work?
I would argue yes. However, it occurs to me now that a late penalty is not the same as an evaluation criterion. Instead of imposing a penalty, maybe I should dedicate 5 or 10% of the grade for each paper to “punctual submission,” much as I do for MLA formatting. Students who submit papers on time will get the full 10%. That way, punctuality would be evaluated the same way as all other competencies.
But then, what do I do about a student who comes to me at the end of the term and wants to submit several assignments, when the assignments are cumulative and completing them all in a short time will minimize their benefit? What do I do when the grade submission deadline rolls around and some students have still not submitted all work? Do I argue that the administration give me an extension too, or give incompletes (which are not given at my college except for medical reasons) on pedagogical principle? Schimmer says that he doesn’t receive a “flood” of assignments at the end of term even though he doesn’t impose late penalties. However, he also doesn’t explain how he deals with individual stragglers (except to mention that students who struggle with deadlines need to be “supported” – how? – and that he contacts parents – not an option when you’re a college teacher.) How does one run a class without firm deadlines?
How do you deal with late work? Do you agree that there is no place for late penalties in learning? Do you have ways of making things run smoothly even if students don’t feel that it’s essential to hand their work in on time?
Image by Chris Gilbert
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