Docking Student Paychecks

In all of your years in the field of education, have you ever been late (in no particular order)
– for a meeting?
– to the start of a class?
– handing in course outlines?
– getting marking back to your students?
– for bus duty?
– calling a parent?
– handing in a report to for a supervisor?
– sending in a posting for a position at your school?
– filing monthly safety reports?
– to watch the start of a game or performance?
– writing a letter of reference for a student (and then worked like heck to get it out)?
– for various other things far too embarrassing to admit?

Of course, this is not even remotely close to being an exhaustive list (and I encourage you to keep adding to this list).  Without trying to make anyone feel guilty, I might guess that ALL of these might have happened in our schools in the past week!  But I am going to guess that even if we were late for all of these and more this week, that we all still received our paychecks in full. 

We are all responsible adults.  We have graduated from high schools, have a few letters tacked on to the signature bar on our emails with advanced degrees, hold down good jobs, and have families (at least some of us).  And guess what–we are still late for things.  Not because we are lazy, irresponsible, or just want to thumb are noses at “the establishment”.  We are late for things because we are HUMAN. 

So if this is the case, why is it that in education the debate still rages on about allowing teachers take marks off for students handing in work late?  In a recent post on Twitter, a link to Globe and Mail article called “Report Cards Get a Failing Grade” stated the following:

“And, after more than a decade, Ontario has reversed the guideline (implemented inconsistently by schools anyway) that late assignments should not be marked down – and teachers could not give zeroes. Manitoba is expected to make the same announcement in two weeks, and Saskatchewan is also reviewing the issue.

Not marking down for late assignments – a guideline that directly affects report cards – was an example, educators say, of a well-meaning approach that failed…”

Wow. What are people thinking when they believe that giving late marks motivates students to complete homework on time? The research is so clear (just email Rick Stiggins if you would like a sampling, or watch Douglas Reeves to see his piece on Toxic Grading Practices, or look up any of the work by Ken O’Connor, such as A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, or Guskey et. al, etc.) that this does not work

Imagine every day that you are told that you are a failure.  Of course, in education, you are not told that you are a failure; you are told that you are a “3 out of 10”, a “42 out of 100”, a “D”, or even better “too late”.  You don’t really like school anyway, it’s pretty boring and you don’t really know why you have to learn logarithms anyhow.  Your teachers seem to always be mad at you and hounding you, and when you copied your friends work you were told that you cheated, and when you told the teacher that your friend just copied it out of the book and you just copied it from them they got even angrier at you.  But then the one time that you finally did that project you were most proud of, the project that you sweated over because you finally were interested in the topic that your teacher covered in class, and that you excitedly turned in, only to get it back with a huge 90/100 with a MINUS 50% FOR BEING LATE.  Wow, I’ll bet you learned a really valuable lesson.  And I can only guess how motivated you will be to do another project.

If schools cannot come up with more creative ways to enforce deadlines for assignments and projects than deducting late marks (ie. if a student does not get something in on time, they have to spend extra TIME at school getting it done–what a concept) then the educational apocalypse truly is upon us. We want students to be creative, but we cannot be creative in solving this very basic issue?  The natural consequence for not doing work is (gasp!) TO DO THE WORK! Not to take marks away. An as a small aside, the last time I checked, students learn at different rates. So our answer to differentiate for their learning is to make hard and fast deadlines and enforce them with late marks? 

Here are some not-so-creative solutions:

– when a student doesn’t do the work, MAKE THEM DO THE WORK, not take the zero.  That is the easy way out.

– reluctant workers are not as motivated by marks as they are by SOCIAL TIME.  If a student does not do work on time, lunch hours, breaks, and after school times are excellent motivators to get students to do work–try it.  They will not like it, and their parents will LOVE it!

– don’t assign CRAP.  And we all know what crap (aka. busy work, stuff that you don’t value) is–questions 1-5 at the end of the chapter when the answers are in the back of the book is a prime example of crap.  Copying out definitions from the glossary is another good piece of crap, and the list goes on.

– Have kids be a PART OF THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS including establishing deadlines!  If they don’t meet the deadline, TALK TO THEM about it.  You will find out a lot of things about your students, and a lot of the reasons for them not meeting that deadline will suprise you, and not be about you.  It will also give you a chance to connect for kids, and show them that you care.

– When a student knows that you care about them, THEY WILL NOT WANT TO DISAPPOINT YOU.

I do want to be clear that I am not here to advocate for being irresponsible and not valuing deadlines.  Quite the contrary—deadlines are a huge part of all of our lives. But let’s make sure that we are using the right tools to teach responsibility (not late marks), and let’s make sure that we remember that 1) we were kids once, and perhaps not quite as responsible as we might selectively choose to remember, and 2) we are late every once in a while, not because we want to “stick it to the man”, but because we are human.
It’s pretty rare in education that we get our paychecks docked for being late.  Let’s not dock students’ paychecks.


  1. Nancy said:

    I won’t get into my philosophy of ‘late work’ grading practices. But this might provide a novel solution to the deadline problem. Instead a ‘due DATE’, why not have a DUE WEEK. student may turn in their work anytime that week. And depending on the student or the assignment as the week cones to a close, assignments nit already handed in will be given the opportunity to stay at school to finish up. HOWEVER, if not turned in by end of Due Week them a 0 it shall be.

    January 16, 2011
    • cbirk said:

      I guess I have several questions. What if the student demonstrates that outcome that you have covered on that particular assignment at another point during your course (ie. two weeks later)? Would that zero (and I strongly encourage you to read “The Case Against Zero” by Douglas Reeves) still impact that child? I would suggest that there is no single assignment, quiz, lab or test that is the single means to assess student learning.

      Secondly, does your “week” accomodate all the different rates of student learning that you have in your class?

      As well, is the work that you have assigned not important? I assume that you are trying to assess what student have learned or not learned in your class to guide your instruction. So how will you do that if kids do not get the opportunity to hand the work in after that week?

      But my biggest question always would be this: “Why NOT give them other opportunities?” Is our job not to discover what students learn? If your response is anything about ‘teaching responsibility’, just follow any of Daniel Pink’s or Alfie Kohn’s work–not allowing students to turn in work because of some arbitrary deadline passing teaches kids who are reluctant learners that they just have to wait until we give up on them and they don’t have to do the work. The best way to teach responsibility is to TEACH responsibility. Develop the relationship with the child and understand the reasons why they are having trouble getting the work in. Do they work every night? Do they understand what they are doing? Is there another method of assessment works better for them?

      I guess something I keep in the back of my mind is this: Who is our CLIENT? If students were not required to come to class, what are the reasons why they would? I would bet that they would be coming to class because they had developed a relationship with the teacher who truly wanted to discover what they knew, to inspire them to demonstrate what they know, and to create a spark in them to learn more about themselves and the world around them. I think we are pretty lucky that we have jobs with a ‘captive audience’: for the most part, students feel they have to come to school.

      Assessing what students know and assessing their behaviour are two very different things. If the behaviour (ie. not turning in the work) stands in the way of us finding out what students know, it is our job as educators to understand the former so that we can determine the latter. I would argue that giving students zero at the end of a week accomplishes neither.

      Just one person’s opinion.

      January 16, 2011
      • Alan Stange said:

        I think my points posted as you were posting echo yours.

        January 16, 2011
    • Alan Stange said:

      I think completion of necessary learning activities is our objective. There should never be a zero for incomplete work. In my district incomplete assessment of student learning objectives is simply registered as “incomplete” in the elementary grades. I guess our high school classrooms are not following this practice and incompletes are registered as zero in the oh-so-important tally of student grades.

      We often discard an incomplete assignment because its moment of importance has passed. The connection to the attainment of the learning outcome has become redundant in some way. There are many indicators for learning and any given assignment is likely simply an alternative. For example, an argument essay assignment can indicate a writing outcome and a content outcome. The content might be attained without attaining the skill of presenting a written argument.. Simply put, the student might pass the content test without completing the writing assignment. There is a failure to meet the indicator for writing. Rather than insist on the student completing the writing assignment, it might be better to analyze the cause of the fail and apply the new understanding to the next writing opportunity. I think the actual writing might be less important than the metacognitive problem solving. Another excellent example would be the process of helping a student understand how to do a math problem. If he or she does not understand the problem solving steps for todays assignment, we work through the problem with the student. Then we give them a new problem to try. If we are concerned with attaining learning outcomes then compiling marks about completed products is not essential.

      There is in fact relatively little significance to learning to complete on time. That is generally an economic indicator I think.

      January 16, 2011
  2. Eric said:

    RE: Taking away student social time

    “and their parents will LOVE it!?”

    That is pretty damn naive. My guess is a good deal of their parents will protest that their slacker son Johnny can’t eat with his buddies.

    January 16, 2011
    • cbirk said:

      Thanks for your comment.

      Perhaps it is naive, but I am speaking from the experience of a large high school over the last 5 years where we have implemented this type of system. Please feel free to check out this post at my blog ( ), that describes our process and results. If you would like to look at our results in each of our courses across our core academic areas, I would be happy to show them as well. I would also draw your attention to Okanagan Mission Secondary in Kelowna, British Columbia, which has used a similar system. They have achieved 100% success for ALL of their 1000 students in their school in all mandatory government exams and in all courses.. Please check the BC Ministry of Education site achievement reports for this school–it seems hard to believe, but it works. I guess all I have to back up what I believe is data.

      Perhaps a thought is “Why not try it?”. If in that virtually non-existent example a parent doesn’t want their child to lose social time at lunch, how about chat with the parent and see another time that might work?

      Perhaps another thought is that it might be naive to think that parents do not want their students to be successful. I choose to believe that they do, and my experience at school and as a parent says exactly that. But I respectfully submit that others might not have that experience, and have the right to believe otherwise.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

      January 16, 2011
  3. Kyle Timms said:

    I confess, I used to take 50% off for students handing in late work. But as I learned more about teaching and learning I changed my policies. We cannot do things we used to just because we used to do it that way.

    When we evaluate, and if we have to give grades, (I’d prefer just descriptive feedback but that’s another argument for another day) we should be evaluating students for what they have learned. Creativity and learning takes different amounts of time for every kid. Feel free to change their “work habits” comment on the report card if work is late, but if they learn it, grade thier learning.

    Oh, and I’m always late for just about everything, just ask my wife. But I know I deseve more than a C- in my life.

    January 16, 2011
  4. Eric said:

    I work in a high school also (25 years of being in educator). Taking away social time is effective as a consequence of a student not doing his/her work. That is not the issue. What I was responding to was the “LOVE” comment. Getting parent support for academic accountably of students not doing work is often a process of steps forward and back. It is just important to be realistic, otherwise it is easy to get discouraged. I think we also have to acknowledge that comparing Canadian students and American students is methodologically questionable in the sense that almost every other country in the world that is developed has substantially better academic achievement than the US. Sociologically, America always enshrined individual freedom at the expense of group collectivism. Unfortunately, it leads some Americans to think if they don’t want to do anything, either in school or out in the work-world, that someone else has no right to opine about it. On the plus side, our system leads to creativity and divergent thinking and that is hard to discern through standardized testing.

    January 16, 2011
  5. Thanks for this. Your post is exactly where we are trying to move our school. Change is difficult and many stakeholders have a hard time believing that they way they’ve always done it isn’t best practice.

    We have to be careful not to imply that this means that they have been “bad teachers”, but rather that we know more now than we knew then. And as professionals, we always look at ways to do what we do (get kids to learn) better.

    This post will be a nice complement to our push for these guidelines.


    February 9, 2011
  6. Mike said:

    This is so so so cool! I am in 5th grade to! I wish we could do stuff like this! Inspired by you and you classes blogs, I have ceretad my own and some of my friends go on it. Thanks Mrs.C (whoever you are)From Mrs C: Hi Audrey. I am glad we were able to inspire you! We still have a lot to learn but it’s pretty cool to be able to put stuff on the web for the whole world to see. Our internet safety rules include not using last names, which is why I use a short version of my name, Mrs C.

    January 2, 2013

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