George Lucas Educational Foundation

A Late Work Policy That Works for Teachers and Students

Creating clear boundaries around when students can submit assignments after the due date can boost morale for everyone.

April 15, 2024
Hero Images on Offset / Shutterstock

When the end of a term approaches, educator social media is full of images and commentary on the sheer amount of grading that will be coming their way. From images of monstrous waves or an exhausted teacher grasping a large cup of coffee, the stress is palpable. So how do we make this better for everyone, including teachers, students, families, case coordinators, and everyone else struggling at the end of the term?

As educators, we want to be considerate of the fact that students have yet to acquire excellent management skills. But we also need to protect our own mental health and teach students the responsibility that comes with completing assignments and turning in work. 

Designing a Late Work Policy With Students

Some years back, I had a high school world language class with a wonderful group of students—but getting work from them was challenging on a good day. After one particularly exhausting end of the term when I received a monumental amount of late work, I flatly said, “We can’t do this again.” Shockingly, they agreed. I gave the class 30 minutes to discuss as a class what they thought could be a fair policy. The requirements were simple: 

1. Simplicity. This policy had to be easy for me to manage as a teacher.

2. Accountability. It couldn’t be a free-for-all with no accountability. 

I could easily write a separate article on how to have students design class policies, but that is for a different time. Here is what the students came up with as a proposal:

Assessment as final deadline: All homework and classwork is accepted full credit until the assessment—then it is not accepted at all. This also counts for any retakes (or corrections) to other activities or smaller assessments. 

The 55 percent rule: If a student does the large majority of the assignments up until assessment, they do not get less than 55 percent on any assessment. This gives students an incentive to get their work done and make arrangements with the teacher to keep on track. It should be very unlikely that a student will do the majority of assignments related to an assessment and get below 55 percent. However, if it does happen, they know that there are policies in place to help them.

If a student does get below 55 percent and has done the large majority of the work, this forces me as an educator to consider the cause. Did other students have similar troubles? If so, was the assessment reflective of the work done in class? If this student was an outlier, perhaps they simply had a rough day (which does happen)?

Assessment as proof of competency: If a student is missing an assignment and they get above a certain score on the assessment, they can get partial credit for any missing work related to the assessment. The students were very clear that this was not a reason to not do work, but rather it was to allow students to focus on critical assignments if they get behind. 

Assessment as redo attempt: If a student does well on a final unit assessment, they can have their grade raised for smaller assessments leading up to that larger one. This was because they showed understanding in areas where they had struggled before. 

Once this policy was created, I shared it with all my sections. Students overwhelmingly supported it. So, we decided to implement it on a trial basis. Once that was a success, I shared this with colleagues, and they implemented it in their classrooms as well. It is now a regular course policy and is shared in all of my course syllabi.

a policy that works for teachers and students

After we set this policy up in my classroom, I observed a variety of benefits.

Morale boost for teacher and students: There was an immediate turnaround for both me and my students. Students who felt that failure was inevitable were motivated and engaged. And I felt better about giving students another chance-–but with boundaries. 

Increased accountability: Students held each other accountable for their own success and admitted when they were not putting in their effort. Parents were highly supportive; it was clear why a student was not successful, and this saved a lot of time responding to parent emails.

Better-quality work: Work was less rushed, which led to better quality, deeper learning, and stronger assessment scores. Students told me they had often rushed through work so it wouldn’t be marked late, but this gave them time to do quality work and therefore learn in the process.

Students did the work: Very few students used the “proof of competency policy” as a chance to simply not do work. Rather, this policy helped students prioritize missing work if they got really behind. Although I worried that this policy might be taken advantage of, only a small handful of students tried—and they realized very quickly that this was not a recipe for success. 

Range of grades: There was still a wide range of grades. Highly skilled students who had an excellent understanding of the content still earned excellent grades. Those who struggled earned grades that weren’t quite as high, but they felt empowered with the recognition of their efforts.

So why does this policy work? I believe there are two main reasons. The first is assurance. Provided they do “their part,” students feel that they can be successful and are assured that their efforts do matter. If they make mistakes, life events make submitting work challenging, or the content gets particularly hard for them, there are structures in place to help them. Second, there is a sense of control for the students. Students crave the opportunity to have control over their future, and they are able to recognize what is fair and how they (and their classmates) should be held accountable for their responsibilities.  

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Assessment
  • Classroom Management
  • 9-12 High School

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use

George Lucas Educational Foundation

Edutopia is a free source of information, inspiration, and practical strategies for learning and teaching in preK-12 education. We are published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.