What message does this send? (Unhelpful Grading Practices Pt. 2.5)

By | August 7, 2010

Snippets from a syllabus I found online:

What message does this send to the students about learning?

What is the motivation for this policy?

Is there a more effective way to achieve the same desired goals?

What kind of environment does this create in the classroom?

Have you been in this class before?

I’m interested in your thoughts/comments.


Sandra on August 7, 2010 at 4:29 pm.

I have been in this type of class (in some fashion or other) for the five years I have been teaching. I decided early on to only grade homework on completion (binary – 100 or 0). One year I tried letting students turn in hw late for 10 points off per class day, which was a logistical nightmare. The last two years, by departmental fiat, we’ve given students a one-class day grace period for a 70, then a 0.

At the end of this year, I finally decided I’d had enough with grading hw. The turning point for me was that there were several students who had grades ranging from 65-67 that I decided I wanted to pass. I was able to bump their grades up to passing merely by eliminating one of their homework zeros. That bothered me. How many students were failing simply because they didn’t do their homework?

This year, my co-teacher and I are trying an incentive system for homework — hw helps their grade, but cannot hurt it. We’ll see how that works out.


David on August 7, 2010 at 6:59 pm.

I don’t assign homework for grades anymore. I don’t even require students to do homework. I do assign projects and expect much of the work of the projects to be done outside of class (although a dedicated fast working student could probably finish the project inside class time). Generally students choose to work on their projects at home, and have even arranged schedules, etc… with each other so that they can work on group projects on their own time.

Best part is, I don’t have to manage their homework at all. The completion rate on the projects has been pretty decent, although not as good this past year as in previous years.


Shawn Cornally on August 7, 2010 at 10:55 pm.

You just can’t stop, can you? I love this blog.

First, this practice is obviously ridiculous from an assessment-for-learning stand point. It’s a typical teacher power-play move done for purely antiquated reasons from a time when we were educating factory workers instead of thinkers.

The double asterisk footnotes gives me conniptions.

The question is, and always should be, “does this student have proficiency with this topic?” If turning in homework is the only way a teacher plans on measuring that, then we have a problem, Houston. Homework is about the worst assessment you can use. Does the homework help the student prepare for a larger assessment, now there’s a reason to assign and teach kids the hard lesson of doing practice to learn.

It’s just not about deadlines. Yes, things have to get done on time, but you don’t want that to be so forced. Sometimes something is worth taking the extra day, sometimes kids just need that time. Being honest with them and talking about what they’re actually doing helps so much more than just sticking to a deadline because you want to be a hardass.

All of this only applies to large projects worth assessing. If you’re grading practice problems, then, well, I can’t type those words on someone else’s blog.


Ms. Bethea on August 7, 2010 at 11:19 pm.

I even left out some of the good double asterisk parts, one of which pretty much summarizes this teacher’s stance on grades:

“**To show how much we value effort, no lower than a ā€œCā€ will be earned if ALL assignments for the semester are completed and turned in on time.”

“Hey! You can get an F on EVERY ASSIGNMENT, but if you turn them all in on time, you’ll get a C!”

For students who desire an A (whatever that means in this class), the lesson is that it is better to fake illness than to submit an assignment a few minutes late.


David Fleming on August 7, 2010 at 11:32 pm.


That’s about all I can say… it appears that content is not all that important to that teacher. Sometimes I think teaching would be so much easier if grading was only based on whether the student played the school game well enough.

Unfortunately, as easy as that would be, I couldn’t stand the idea of using my students as pawns in a game.


gasstationwithoutpumps on August 7, 2010 at 11:40 pm.

My (graduate) classes generally have weekly projects for a 10-week quarter (or one project with biweekly progress reports), and there is only one drop-dead deadline at the end of the quarter (students have to request an incomplete for the course if they are going to miss that deadline).

I don’t take points off for lateness, but if a student turns in work after I’ve provided feedback to the rest of the class, I hold them to a higher standard (they can’t make the mistakes that I discussed in class).
Actually, in the classes where there is barely enough time to do all the required work, I hold all late assignments to a higher standard, as anyone in the class could have done better with more time.

Students do get 0 for not turning in an assignment, but it is possible to pass the course with 20% of the assignments missing (but not if the remaining ones are of too-low quality).


Rick Fletcher @TRFletcher on June 16, 2011 at 10:57 pm.

I know I’m really late on this, so I will probably get a zero. šŸ˜‰

But in case anyone is still reading this old thread, I wonder if the high school teachers are considering the habits they help form in their college-bound students. Over the past 20 years, it has become increasingly challenging to get students to do the homework they need to do in the first year chemistry courses. By the time they get to Jr level P-chem, 95% of them are doing the work and getting it in on time but that first year is a battle. (I think it’s necessary to remind the reader that it’s not uncommon for a first year course to have over 300 students – so it is logistically impossible to make exceptions to deadlines in a fair manner. It is next to impossible to be fair on an individual basis because believe it or not, college students lie. I can usually sniff it out but I can also be wrong.) So the alternative to hard and fast deadlines for HW are to assign none of them for credit. I’ve decided that is not fair – the motivated students do the HW and those with, um, time challenges, choose other priorities on at least a few occasions. I’m doing my level best to teach all my students and to help them learn the material. Problems are an important part of that process but if they come to me without experience making deadlines or even worse, without the experience of having to set aside time for work outside the class, they will use up that first year learning to make deadlines. Most of them will recover from a lower than expected grade in first year classes – but I wish they didn’t have to start out behind the pack.

I’m not alone about this. Almost all of my college colleagues wish their first year students had more experience with deadlines and doing work on their own. For that reason, I often cringe when I read the growing trend among the HS teachers that “homework is a bad idea.” I disagree. (That said, I do try to understand the challenges you guys face with your students and their home lives and all the sociology that goes with adolescence. That’s part of the reason I gave up high school and moved to college teaching!)

I would appreciate any comments about my critique – if anyone stumbles across this. Direct comments to fletcher@uidaho.edu are welcome.


Brandon McDole on December 13, 2015 at 5:45 pm.

Have you heard of the 40% policy before? In classrooms at my school, most teachers don’t give students lower than a 40% for incomplete assignments. This is because A’s, B’s, etc. have a 10% range while E’s have a 50-60% range, so in that sense, E’s are weighted much much more heavily than all the other grades, which is not fair to the students.



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