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Lateness and Learning: Issues and Strategies Associated with Late or Missed Submissions

Bonnie Mullinix Co-President & Educational Consultant - Jacaranda Educational Development

Do late assignment submissions equal less learning? Are firm, immutable deadlines the best approach? When zero points are factored in place of a late assignment, is this an accurate reflection of student’s knowledge? Although there are jobs in which one must turn something in on time or else it has no value, there are MANY jobs where deadlines may need to be negotiated at times. Therefore, perhaps we also need to consider strategies for dealing with late submissions in a clear, supportive way that takes into consideration context, general population characteristics, and accommodates individual challenges and situations?

Shared in this blog are practice-based consensus decisions related to late or missed submissions. These decisions resulted from teams of faculty (long-term Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs)/Communities of Practice (CoPs)(Cox, 2001) agreeing on course-based strategies that they collectively redesigned (Mullinix et al., 2013). In striving for student success, the issue of late assignments was explicitly discussed and explored. In several instances the faculty teams looked at the impact that different requirements had on student grades and persistence. I have provided a few of the solutions our teams came up with excerpted from the syllabi (below). But first , in an effort to frame the discussion, I have listed a variety of strategy categories that are related to penalties or responses to late and missed submissions.

Context – Context can be a critical consideration in deciding how to address lateness.  Certain program and professional requirements can include non-negotiable deadlines that should be underscored for students.  And yet others are less critical. Ultimately, different student populations benefit from different policies, and major shifts in student population should allow us to reflect on policies to ensure success, learning, and fairness (Boylan, 2002). Traditional students whose full-time responsibility is their studies can often benefit from structure and deadlines. When students are fitting studies into a full family, work, and life responsibilities (Kuh et al., 2006), it makes sense to allow greater latitude so that they can persist and succeed.

Transparency – In all cases it is important that clear policy statements regarding practices for late submissions should be noted in the syllabus and shared clearly with students.

Extensions/Grace periods – Providing students with a small amount of time, when an advanced request is made and approved, to submit an assignment late without penalty can be encouraging to both class and individual students.  If desired, this grace period may be tempered by having a limited number of times it can be used.

Time-based Penalties Penalties can be applied on a daily basis, having points/percentages deducted for each day past the due date that it is submitted.

Substitutions – Better scores can be substituted for poor or missed scores for similar assignments.  Example: major tests cannot be made-up (impractical to arrange for/manage makeups), but grades for later tests when higher can be substituted (especially cumulative unit/mid-term/final exams).

Forgiveness – Allow students to choose to miss or drop one assignment/test without penalty. This practice can be reserved for low-stakes assessment items.  Alternately, allow students to retake/resubmit assignments to gain a higher grade.

Fairness to all – Consistency in applying strategies and policies as shared.

In most cases, these strategies can be instituted to help ensure the learning associated with a course happens and provides some space to ensure that students can persist, succeed and be retained in a program. The flexibility of technology-enhanced grading formulas makes these much easier to implement. And yet, any time an assignment that requires faculty grading is submitted late or any changes in practice requires faculty intervention, the impact on faculty schedules and time is noticeable.  As such, faculty need to have a say in how policies are established and maintained.  Further, individual student situations do not fit general population guidelines. Even the best crafted policies need to be phrased in a way that will allow faculty to consider special student situations and needs within the context of fairness to all.

Sample Policies

As promised, following are a few of the approaches implemented across several disciplines. The context for these policies is a two-year technical college where most students are first generation college students and students who are putting themselves through school, often while working and often managing families. These examples are drawn from the courses taken by students who are entering into college with limited skills and minimal knowledge of the college environment and culture. All of these point to a combined need for structure and flexibility. Here are a couple of excerpts from syllabi that incorporated appropriate strategies to facilitate and manage assignment submissions with a focus on helping students persist, learn, and ultimately succeed at a clear and high level (note: all redesigned courses included increased attention to active learning, technology-facilitated learning, time-on-task, and supplemental instructional support).


Homework will be done online using the [insert individualized online learning platform or program]. In this software you will study, practice, and “certify” on each topic covered in this class. To complete each assignment you must demonstrate your mastery by passing the certification quiz at 80%. This will earn you 100% on your homework assignment.

Each homework assignment for a class will be due at the beginning of the next class period. If you submit assignments late, you may still receive partial credit for the first 5 days after each due date, but there will be a late penalty of 10% per day subtracted from your score. Any assignments completed after the late period will be recorded at 50%. Because of the time needed to install and learn to use the [insert learning software], your first week’s assignments will be due at the beginning of the first class period of the second week. Your 3 lowest homework assignment grades will be dropped.

Unit Tests: You cannot make up a missed test, but one missed test score may be replaced by the final exam score. Other missed tests will receive a grade of zero.

Final Exam: You must take the final exam to pass this course. The final exam will be comprehensive and cannot be exempted. The final exam score may be used to replace a lower grade.

Activities: Consistent participation in class activities, problem-solving practice, group work, in-class quizzes, online discussions (in Blackboard), and application experiences is a central part of your learning experience.

While a primary strategy was incorporating active practices, engagement, and time-on-task, math instructors who found the integration of math software sufficiently challenging, were allowed the discretion to shift 5% of the grading scheme to the learning software quizzes.


Activities/Daily Grades: Participation in class activities, group work, homework, spiral entries, in-class quizzes, discussions, and writing assignments is a central part of the learning experience. Some in-class activities are participatory in nature and may not be made up.

Late/Make-up Assignments: May/may not be accepted: please refer to individual instructor’s policy.


  1. Late/Make-up work will be addressed according to individual instructor policies (see Course and Instructor Information Sheet and/or Blackboard);

  2. Students requiring learning accommodations must supply instructors with an accommodation sheet from Disabilities Services (SC 105-115) prior to assessment of any major assignment or test.

English instructors felt strongly that the ability to accept or reject late assignments or allow make-up work should be at the discretion of each instructor.  Shared syllabi meant that common grading rubrics and structures were implemented across courses.  Thus, grade deduction discretion was limited to no more than 10% and instructor policy variability was often limited simply to differences regarding whether to accept late assignments or makeup work.


Reading/Vocabulary Quizzes – Students complete quizzes in Blackboard for each of the 10 Chapters and topics covered.  You have two opportunities to take each quiz and the highest score will be recorded.

All course assignments (quizzes, tests, projects, etc.) must be completed by assigned due dates in order to receive full credit.  Under no circumstances may any assignments be submitted after the final exam date.

Reading Instructors shared common course syllabi, grading schemes, and rubrics and limited assignment deductions to no more that 5-10% of an assignment.  In addition to flexibility, substitutions and deduction limits, they further instituted sliding scale of point reductions linked to degree of lateness.

Closing Thoughts

Student success is improved by balancing clear policies against the realities of student lives.  Consistency across course sections and programs in grading policies and practices can improve student understanding and ability to meet course expectations. Even so, challenges faced by students, particularly first generation, non-traditional, and/or returning adult students, need to be considered.  Faculty are the best positioned to know both their student’s challenges and their own. While faculty responsible for teaching courses should agree on common policies and practices to include in syllabi in order to facilitate continuity and comparability, they also should have some latitude to overlay their own insights and needs into the process.  An extremely busy term schedule can influence time to accommodate late assignments. In addition, teaching philosophy can also influence individual policies. Although some faculty feel strongly that deadlines are critical to maintain, others believe that resubmissions, forgiveness, and flexibility are hallmarks of progress and learning. In the end, agreed assessment strategies, assignments, and grading policies are often a compromise that finds the sweet spot between such views.  In order to make such policies and practices work, faculty need some implementation leeway to fit practices to their philosophies while acknowledging their instructional expertise and insights. Providing for individual faculty policies within a defined limit addresses faculty needs for freedom while providing the cross-course consistency and clarity that can help students to succeed.

Students appreciate choice, clarity, and the opportunity to succeed.  If they have clear options and some flexibility to address a life or learning challenge, there is a much greater chance that they will not only continue within a course, but that they will persist in their studies.  Knowing their faculty members are willing to support them and that they are interested in their learning and success increases retention.  In the end, the ability of faculty and programs to embed clear flexible policies and practices that allow for extensions, substitutions, forgiveness, and fairness can provide the latitude to address the reality of students’ lives and give them the chance they need to learn.

References and Resources

Boylan, H. R. (2002). What Works: Research-based best practices in developmental education. Boone: NC: Continuous Quality Improvement Network/National Center for Developmental Education.

Cox, M. D. (2001). Faculty learning communities: Change agents for transforming institutions into learning organizations. To Improve the Academy, 19, 69-93.

Kuh, G.D., J. Kinzie, J.A. Buckley, B. K. Bridges, J. C. Hayek. (2006). What Matters to Student Success: A Review of the Literature. National Post-Secondary Education Cooperative. Available:

Mullinix, B.B. & J.S. Bishop & R. Sawyer. (2013, May 27). Unlocking Educational Futures: Weaving Data in Support of Curricular Development and Decisions. Presentation presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2013 Annual Meeting/Conference, San Francisco, CA. Available:

Rutschow E.Z. & E. Schneider (2011). Unlocking the Gate: What We Know About Improving Developmental Education. MDRC. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from

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