Assessment in the Classroom – Part 6

August 8th, 2016

Real Deadlines

“In the real world…” is frequently heard at the start of a college instructor’s tirade, but students are not in the real world, they are in school. Yes, there are times when it is a good idea to simulate a real working environment, but too often, this statement is simply used as an opportunity for teachers to complain about students’ shortcomings.

I know I will get a lot of disagreement from educators everywhere on this one, but I do not penalize students for late work. In fact, most the time, I do not set a deadline, so the work is never officially late. The real deadline is the end of the course, when I am required to submit grades. I would always prefer that a student go back and do an assignment, and learn through the process of doing that work, and get the credit for doing it, than telling them it is too late for them to do the assignment, so why bother?

Of course there are exceptions to this. If students have to complete one part of a project in order to move forward, then a deadline for the first part is both reasonable and helpful.

Sometimes I get students rushing through a lot of work at the end of a term, but that is rare. If the student is on my radar for low grades, and frequently this type of student is, I will look at the work they submit to determine if they really put in the effort, or actually did the work. If not, then no credit is given.

Generally, there are so many assignments that for students who fall too far behind, there are no practical way for them to get caught up, and they usually end up dropping the course. In spite of the occasional pitfalls, I prefer to give students every opportunity to learn the content from the course, even if that is not very “real world” -ish.

Extra Credit

Few topics in assessment will get faculty more riled up than “extra credit”. Frankly, I was surprised by the amount of debate on this topic. Extra credit has never been a problem for me, probably because many of my assignments are not due until I have to submit grades at the end of the term. I have noticed that instructors who set deadlines during the course for assignments, and will not take late work (or severely penalize late work), are the ones students frequently ask to provide extra-credit assignments.

I do offer extra credit as an opportunity for students to go above and beyond the required assignments. Rarely do students who have not already done the regular assignments, do the extra credit assignments.

Sometimes extra credit assignments aren’t really extra. They are just alternative assignments. If the student doesn’t like assignment A, but will perhaps do assignment B instead, and they both require the student to practice the same techniques and lead to the same learning outcomes, then what is the harm in that? There is nothing “extra” about the credit. It is just alternative credit.

Balancing Act

As I wind down my thoughts on assessment in the classroom, I think it is important to note that no system for assessment is perfect. The nuances of situations in the classroom when giving feedback about student work are going to be handled differently by every instructor. When do you push students hard? When is pushing hard going to discourage students? When can you be blunt, and when should you be circumspect? Some students are crushed by the slightest critique, others you have to hit over the head with a hammer. It can be less than obvious which is which.

Students will have all manner of excuses why their work is subpar or incomplete. Personally, I find it’s best to respect them as people and take their excuses at face value, while trying to read between the lines to see if I can figure out what is really going on. In the long run, they will do the work, or not. I do everything I can to make the course engaging and to build positive relationships with the students in class, so that they want to come to class and participate. Generally, I have found that if I can get students to have the right attitude towards their work, the quality will follow, eventually.

Check out the other posts in this series

Part 1
Introduction and Setting the Stage

Part 2
The 3 F’s of Assessment & Meeting Students Where They Are

Part 3
The Tools for Assessment

Part 4
Micro and Macro Approaches
The Heart of My Assessment System

Part 5
Gaming the System and Fair != Same

Part 6 < You are here
Real Deadlines & Extra Credit

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