Kymberly has taught in music, programming, and natural languages for over 15 years. She is crazily passionate about learning!
As a teacher, you will be faced with late submissions from students in every class. From primary school through to university, absent students and late work can be a source of stress for teachers.
Students will hand in late work and miss classes for a number of reasons, some of which are legitimate. It is not fair on students who are punctual, to accept late submissions without penalties, if there are no excusable reasons for the lateness.
A consistent late work policy
Having a consistent policy and procedure for dealing with late work, and giving it to students at the beginning of the term (or even with every assignment), will reduce the headaches and arguments that can sometimes occur.
Occasionally, schools will have a late work policy for all students in all classes. If your school has such a policy, you should follow the school-wide late work policy to ensure consistency and prevent complaints from students or parents.
If there is no school-wide policy, you should develop your own late work policy.
Do: Talk to your colleagues if you want to create a consistent policy to be used in all classes.
One policy is much easier for the students to remember, than a different policy for each class.
Preventing chronic late submissions
A late work policy encourages students to submit their work on time. Completing work on time is extremely important in the workplace - you may lose your job if work is always submitted late!
Everyone has the occasional problem and finishes their work late, or is absent.
Do: Encourage your students to talk to you if they have a problem, or if they will be absent, and ask for an extension.
Extensions on deadlines
Students should feel comfortable asking for an extension, especially if they have legitimate reasons. It shows that the student is actively trying to manage their workload, and plans to complete the work.
A little leniency with deadlines can keep a class happy - they will see you as a friendly and helpful teacher.
However, choosing to accept late work without a penalty, and without legitimate reasons, is unfair to their peers who have submitted their assignments on time.
Legitimate reasons for handing in work late
In my classes at university, I accepted late work for a number of reasons, providing the students supplied a document stating the dates on which they were unable to work. A variation for younger students, is to allow a letter from a parent or guardian to list the dates on which the student could not work (or was absent from school).
Illness or injury
Dated medical certificate
Required when handing in an assignment late, or for an absence of more than three days.
Letter of explanation
Extension of 1-2 days, but longer if the student is very distressed.
Letter of explanation and copy of ticket
Teachers may choose to accept emailed assignment files, in lieu of a hard copy.
Psychological distress (depression, etc.)
Letter from parents, school counsellor or doctor
Occasional and short term extensions only, and a referral to the school counsellor or mentor.
Too many overlapping deadlines in other classes
Due dates and assignment requirements from the other classes
1-2 day extension, or a class-wide extension of the deadline if the entire class is affected.
Other reasons that may excuse an extension or absence, depending on the submission history of the student, include: computer or printer malfunction, a problem with transport
Note: It was a policy at the university where I worked, that students who worked could not excuse absence or late submissions using job-related reasons. They were expected to put their studies ahead of their jobs, which was certainly difficult for students who had no form of financial support and had to work.
Daily homework policy
It is difficult to accept late submissions for work that is done at home and required (and marked) in the following class.
If the daily homework marks are counted in the final grade, then one of the following approaches may be useful:
- Allow a set number of 'non-submission' days without penalty, then apply a percentage penalty for any additional days absent or when homework was not submitted.
- Ignore a set number of the lowest marks (or all students) when calculating the final grade.
- Set a mini-assignment or 'catch-up' work and deadline to cover the missed work.
Late assignment or projects - sample policies
Stamp or write on all assignments, the date on which it was submitted. Electronic submissions are automatically dated (the sent time-stamp of an email, or file creation/modification date).
Of course, there are ways to alter the automatic date-stamps, but I found few students tried to cheat in this way, even though they were studying computer science.
If you accept extensions for legitimate excuses, then extend the date from which penalties apply.
Usually, weekends are excluded when calculating the number of days late.
Do: Give some marks to work that was submitted late - it is better than submitting nothing at all!
- 1-3 days late - less feedback and comments than recorded on submissions that were on time.
- 4+ days late - no comments or feedback.
- Non-submission - fail.
- For each day late - 5% - 10% of the assignment's grade (to a minimum above 0%)
- Non-submission - 0%, fail.
Instead of percentage, you can deduct a grade, or a certain number of marks per day late, down to a minimum mark.
Late work penalties
A submission window allows students to hand their assignments in within a set time-frame.
Single day submission window - good for short assignments, and seemed to increase submissions from chronic procrastinators in my classes!
Week-long submission window - can be combined with a small 'feedback' penalty, where early submissions receive more detailed comments.
Submissions outside of the submission window may be:
- penalized by deducting marks for each day past the end of the submission window (to a minimum grade)
- automatically given a minimum grade (better than non-submission)
- given no feedback/comments
Months past the deadline?
When faced with exam marking, and the documentation required at the end of each term, you don't want to be faced with a flood of extra late assignments.
Do: Set a hard, non-negotiable date, sometime before the end of a term, after which submissions are not accepted.
Missed exams and tests
Some schools and universities offer supplemental exams and tests to students who had legitimate reasons to be absent.
When you prepare a test or exam paper, keep in mind that you may need to create a second one for those who were absent.
It is not a good idea to re-use the same test. You can't ensure that the students who were absent have not talked to the students who have already sat the first test, and discovered the answers.
Do: Set a date for a replacement test or exam, not too long after the initial exam.
Example late-work policy for school-age students
You may request an extension for an assignment, but you must ask more than 1 day before the assignment is due. Extension requests on the due date, without an excusable reason, will not be considered.
- Please provide a medical certificate if you were ill for more than 3 days, or a letter from your parents if you were ill for 1-2 days.
- If you were traveling, or missed classes due to important appointments, or there were other serious circumstances, attach a letter from your parents.
You will receive an extension for the number of days you were ill, traveling, or unable to work.
Late penalties will apply after the end date of agreed extensions.
Completed homework tasks are due at the beginning of the class.
If answers are discussed, no late submission is possible.
If homework answers are not discussed, you may turn in completed homework tasks at the beginning of the next class, without penalty.
If you were absent, and homework answers are not discussed, you may turn in the missed homework tasks within two days of returning to school.
When calculating your final grade, the 5 lowest homework task grades will be ignored.
Assignments and Projects
Hard copies must be handed in by 4pm, on the due date.
Electronic submissions will be accepted in case of illness, or computer malfunction.
For each day late, excluding the weekends, a 5% penalty will be applied.
The minimum grade that a late assignment can receive is 40%.
Non-submissions, and submissions received later than 2 weeks, will receive 0%.
The ever-growing pile of grading
Sticking to your late work policy, and using techniques to help you grade quickly and consistently, will help you manage your pile of marking, preventing stress and avoiding the dreaded burnout that always seems to hit teachers at the end of school terms.
If you are absent or ill for more than 14 days, or have other exceptional circumstances, you may apply for special consideration.
You may be given different make-up homework tasks and assignments, or your final grade may be adjusted to take your circumstances into account.
If you are a teacher - what's your policy for late submissions?
What do you think is a fair policy, for all students (and the teacher)?
Let us know in the comments below!
Anonymous on December 04, 2018:
What if after due date your teacher automatically takes off 50 percent of the assignment? My teacher does that, I wanted to know if this harsh penalty is acceptable or if I should talk with my school counselor about this issue.
Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on August 29, 2012:
Natashalh - Consequences are definitely necessary for some students to find the motivation! Also to push those perfectionists to submit, or else they'd spend forever revising and revising.
Natasha from Hawaii on August 28, 2012:
Love it! Consistency and enforcement are key! You can tell students they have to turn work in, but if there are no consequences, some of them never will.