Should Late Work Affect Student’s Grades?

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Should late assignment’s negatively impact a student’s grade?

Every student almost certainly knows the feeling that accompanies missing assignments; a sinking dread mixed with stinging guilt and the frantic, fearful thoughts of falling grades. It only hurts more to check Infinite Campus and see that one’s grade HAS gone down because of that one slip-up. But it’s not as though the student did anything deserving of that punishment. They aren’t being penalized for doing a problem incorrectly or for not showing their work. The student simply didn’t turn in an assignment. This begs the question; should late work hurt grades, despite the purpose of the grading system being to judge how well a student is learning, and not on how quickly they can turn in an assignment?

On one hand, penalizing students for late work is counterintuitive to grading and gives the grading system a confused identity. Is it for gauging a student’s learning ability or judging their aptness at turning work in on time? The question becomes frustrating the more one thinks about it. 

Another similar problem with punishing students for late work is that it overtakes the actual learning and makes students too focused on turning the assignments in on time. Most students only seek to complete the homework they’re given for a grade, not for the sake of learning, which leads to mindless working with no objective other than finishing the work given, even if that involves cheating.

 This is especially true for students who consistently struggle to finish assignments on time. Suppose a student is trying to cram as much homework as they can at the last second. In that case, they’re going to be using any methods necessary to get that work done as fast as possible, whether it be SparkNotes or online calculators so that they can be prepared for a quiz or test. According to one study by Stanford University, ⅔ of students have reported cheating on exams, while 9/10 have reported copying another’s homework.  Almost no learning is happening during an intense cramming session, and the only thing driving that student forward is probably the thought of seeing no missing assignments in their Infinite Campus. Of course, this could all lead to a bigger discussion about issues with the grading system in general, but late work is a significant contributor to many of those problems.

On the other hand, though, there are benefits to the concept of late work. Helping students develop a habit, no matter what it is, is a good practice. The habit of turning in homework may also help with future jobs. Many jobs assign work and expect it to be done by a specific deadline, and the practice of homework helps prepare for that, although that’s dependent on what the job is. This entire argument also begs the question; what would schools do without the concept of late work? Would students turn in work whenever they feel? Is it fair to the students who turn their assignments in on time? So many questions to answer, all of which make the conversation of late work a tough one.

To summarize, late work is both overly-prioritized and needed. Teachers and the overall education system treat turning in assignments late as a sin and pressure students to the point where they focus more on the sheet of paper in front of them rather than its contents and will cheat to get it done fast and easy. But at the same time, using bad grades as a threat is a good way to incentivize students to do work and develop good habits. There is no simple answer to whether late work is necessary or not, and it definitely isn’t getting answered any time soon.