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What’s Your Late Policy?

posted: 2.1.11 by Traci Gardner

471342075_8acd36fc9e_mLet me begin by admitting that I submitted this blog post to the moderators late. I have a good excuse. Well, at least it seems like a good excuse to me. The situation got me to thinking about how I set late policies, however. What’s a fair late policy?

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different options:

  • A full letter grade off for any late paper
  • No late papers accepted without a note from the dean or student health services
  • No grade penalty, but no revisions accepted
  • No grade penalty if an extension is arranged a class before the due date
  • One 24-hour grace period allowed per student, after that a full grade off

I never have found the perfect solution. The problem is that I’m a sucker for a sad face and a good excuse. I know I need a clear policy that I can apply fairly. But if it’s going to work for me, the less I have to evaluate excuses the better. I’m just too much of a pushover.

I know there are a lot of other options out there. Nels P. Highberg explained in ProfHacker that he accepts late papers but does not provide any comments on them. That would never work for me. Like one of the commenters on his post, I use those comments later to remind myself why the paper earned the grade it did.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that my late policy has to do with my own experiences as a student. I’ve never been able to use a policy where you take off some amount for every day late, for instance. I had a bad experience with a computer programming course and a teacher who took off 50 percent off for each day late, regardless of the reason. I’ve never forgotten it, and I can’t abide by that sort of policy. I remember how terribly unfair it was in my situation.

On the other hand, I always have some sort of penalty for missing the official due date. I remember my exasperation in grad school when I learned that another student turned in a paper a week late with no penalty “because he had been busy that term.” Really? I hadn’t exactly been sitting around doing nothing. I could have made that paper a lot better with an extra week. I don’t want a policy that puts students who actually turn work in on time at a disadvantage.

I’m not sure my personal experience should figure into the policy so much, but I know that it does. My hunch is that I have an easier time enforcing the policy if it would feel fair to me if I were the student.

Is that the best way to measure what’s fair? Is it pedagogically the best way to handle late papers? I’m still trying to figure it out, and I definitely need advice. I’d love to hear what you do. What policy do you use, and how do you decide what’s fair?

[Photo: Due dates are closer than they appear by Wesley Fryer, on Flickr]

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Categories: Campus Issues, Teaching Advice
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2 Responses to “What’s Your Late Policy?”

  1. Steve B, U Delaware Says:

    I agree, Traci, no perfect solution. I generally want to get the best work possible out of students, and sometimes that calls for flexibility. I also know that some of my best students take deadlines very seriously and knock themselves out to meet the published deadlines. So being lax with some students is not fair to the best or at least the most self-disciplined.

    The worst experience I had with deadlines was when I co-edited an anthology on teaching writing. English professors were absolutely horrible about meeting deadlines.

  2. Bedford Bits: Ideas for Teaching Composition » Blog Archive » Due Dates, Deadlines, and My Late Policy Says:

    […] a fair policy is not a new issue for me. I wrote about my confusion with choosing a fair late policy a couple of years ago. I have been bothered particularly that late policies seem to be more about […]