The Grading Question: Responding to Concerns

It’s fall again. School has started, yellow buses are on the roads, and thousands of students across the country are watching their averages plummet because they skipped an assignment, or turned in their homework late.

If you’re a teacher who is re-thinking those zeros and those I’m-Taking-Ten-Percent-Off-Your-Grade-For-Each-Day-Late policies, you’ve probably encountered looks of genuine concern from colleagues who worry that you’re lowering expectations. Even though research suggests that punitive grading measures do not work to motivate unmotivated students, many teachers still defend their right to dole out “zeros” and low grades to high-quality (but late) assignments.

Below is a list of common concerns that I’ve heard, along with possible responses. What concerns do your colleagues have about reducing/removing punitive grading policies? How are you responding?

Concern Response
The students will never learn responsibility if we let them turn in assignments late without penalty. How do we know that a penalty will teach them responsibility? Can you show me research suggesting that this will benefit all students and work to motivate (rather than de-motivate) students?

An ethical question: How do we know that it’s our responsibility to teach students responsibility? How are we defining responsibility?

“Deadlines help students with organization. If we take away the penalties, they’ll let work pile up.” Is there a way to teach organizational skills/pacing skills that doesn’t involve punishment? Have you tried providing a pacing guide and following-up with students?
We need to hold students accountable. Is there a way to hold students accountable that involves more learning than punishment?
But then students who never turn in work on time can earn As. So what. Good for those A-earners!
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