On social media, I recently tapped into one of the most controversial topics in the teaching and grading world: late points. I made a post sharing that I do not take off late points in my middle school ELA classroom, and the Internet went wild.
People LOVE to take off late points. I’ve heard, and debated, all of the arguments: if we don’t take off late points, how will kids learn discipline? How will kids be ready for the real world? What if kids are late to their job–will their boss just let it go? If we don’t take off late points, kids will never complete their work on time! If we don’t take off late points, THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT WILL IMPLODE!
After all of the debates and all of the arguments, I still never, under any circumstances, take off late points. That doesn’t mean my classroom is a free-for-all and kids just hand in their work whenever their little hearts desire. It is actually quite the opposite. My classroom is highly structured, and 99% of assignments are completed on time, but when kids need more time to learn, they get it.
The most common misconception among late-points-lovers is that there is no consequence beyond late points. That’s simply untrue. When I overhauled my entire grading system from traditional to standards based learning a few years ago, I found my students more engaged in learning. The overhaul of systems is an important part of my no-late-points philosophy, so I shared a little of that rethinking of grades below. If you’re short on time, feel free to skip to the good stuff–you can find four alternatives to late points here.
How I overhauled my grading system to make late points a thing of the past:
Late points are part of a larger system that needs to shift. In a standards based learning classroom, the focus is on feedback and learning over grades. All work is split into two categories: formative and summative. Formative work receives feedback and potentially a grade as communication only. Formative work does not “count” directly in a student’s average because it is considered practice; however, formative work does “count” in the sense that when well designed, it prepares students for their summative performance. Therefore, students who complete formative work are motivated by learning and doing better on the summatives.
An example: reader’s notes count as formative work. Kids get a check mark for completing them. I let them know on the spot if they’re sufficient or not. A summative assessment would be a RACCE response paragraph written about the text. Students who have read and completed their notes will do inherently better. If students do poorly on a summative and want the opportunity to retake the assessment, they have to complete all owed formative work first. This doesn’t require massive regrading on the teacher’s end–it can be a simple check. The idea here is that by doing the formative work, the student is learning what they missed and will perform better on a retake.
How does this connect to late points? When the purpose of the work is transparent, students are driven by learning and learning is completed on time. Most kids want to complete formative work when they know it will prepare them for the summative work that “counts” as a measure of their understanding. Of course there are some kids who end up behind and missing assignments, but they might end up completing the formative work in an effort to complete a retake OR they might end up not performing well, a natural consequence.
Of course, any teacher’s goal is to have all kids learning and not missing assignments, so when kids do not perform well, students and I plan interventions together. This might mean working with AIS or special education staff, as appropriate, to work with a student during AIS or resource classes to complete missed work. It might mean working with families to assign students after school time to complete work. In worse case scenarios, kids who show very little evidence of learning and understanding might need to repeat a class in summer school.
There are still consequences, but the door to learning is ALWAYS open and grades are not skewed by behaviors; grades are a true measure of understanding.
ALTERNATIVES TO LATE POINTS
Instead of late points, kids complete missed work in class.
Consider this scenario: kids’ homework is to read a chapter from the class novel. When they come into class, they meet in groups to discuss and share reader’s notes. Students who did not complete their reading read in class as their classmates meet and share notes. Why would they ever read at home? Well, to socialize. Kids are motivated to complete the work because it gives them access to their friends. Otherwise, they’re sitting and reading while the rest of their classmates chat.
This alternative works for several reasons: it’s a logical consequence and kids do the reading one way or another. They will likely not be able to complete all of the reading in class, but some reading is better than no reading, especially for our kids who quite literally, do not have the time or quiet space outside of school to read.
This alternative works for other assignments as well. When kids hand in their articles of the week, they complete a “building schemas” activity in class. Kids who didn’t read the article use the building schemas time to read.
Think of how this could work in your class with different assignments. Think of the advantage of kids learning material vs. earning late points or, even worse, giving up and never doing the work.
2. Instead of late points, kids must stay after school.
Staying after school is an old school alternative that works in many settings (if after school is not an option in your district, see alternatives 1, 3, and 4). When collecting work, simply tell any student who did not turn in the work to sign up to stay after and, if necessary, instruct the student to email home explaining why. After school, students complete the work with you. The learning is not missed and there is a natural consequence.
3. Students must assess their reason for being late.
A very simple missing work form can be a game changer. Include space for kids to share why the work was late, actions to avoid late work in the future, and space to make a plan for getting the work done. A missing work form forces kids to think about why they’re not getting work done on time, and it prompts them to think of a solution. A missing work form can also give you insight about why a student is not completing their work, and the reason can help you to better meet their needs. You can download my missing work form for free here.
4. Instead of late points, kids must complete missing work in order to retake
If you allow summative assessment retakes in your class, it only makes sense that the work leading up to the assessment (the formative work) must be done in order to be eligible for retakes. For example, if a kid bombs an assessment based on a reading book and they never did their reading, they would have to complete the reading before being eligible for a retake. Once again, put the onus on the students to make a plan for how to get the work done. My students fill out a request to retake form that you can find as part of my Standards Based Grading Forms here.
Which alternatives will work best for your students? Share your ideas in the comments. Remember, when we leave the door open for learning, students begin to focus on improving their understanding which is intrinsically more motivating than grades will ever be. The research backs it up!