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Late Work Policy Options for Secondary Classrooms

Late work is of the most annoying classroom management challenges for middle and high school teachers. If your late work policy is not working out for you, there are alternate options. Let’s look at a few of the most common classroom management solutions.

Student:  “Can I turn this in?”

Teacher:  “When was it due?’

Student:  “September.”

Teacher:  “No, I’m sorry. It’s too late.”

Student:  “What do you mean? Final exams aren’t until tomorrow!”

Teacher:  “Jeremy…it’s December. That assignment was from first nine weeks.”

Student:  “Oh. Well, can’t you go back and change the grade?”

Teacher:  Sigh.

Maybe that conversation comes across as comical, but when it happens in real life (and it does), it’s enough to send us into a little bit of a crank fest. Teachers don’t need to spend hours at the end of the quarter or the semester grading a stack of papers a mile high that was due weeks ago.

A consistent late work policy helps students to learn responsibility and timeliness…both important skills for real life. What’s more, a late work policy makes classroom management more reasonable. But, should that lesson on responsibility come at the expense of relationships, learning, and confidence?

In today’s post, we’re exploring a handful of late work policy options for the secondary classroom. Needless to say, more than these policies exist, but they are among the most common that I have witnessed and experienced. If you have a different system that works, please tell us about it in the comments. Help us gather a teacher-tested bank of late work policies to help educators solve one of their most pressing classroom management issues.

Before choosing a course of action, make sure to consider both your teaching philosophy and the expectations of your administration. You will want to have a late work policy that reflects your beliefs about teaching and learning, and you also need to know that your administration will support your decisions regarding students’ grades.

5 late work policy options plus best practice considerations for middle and high school teachers #LateWork #MiddleSchool #HighSchool


Option #1

Don’t accept late work. Period.

Why? Not accepting late work puts a strong emphasis on the importance of the work you assign. Students know you mean business, and the work from your class should be considered a priority.

Advantages:  Students will turn more work in on time because of the urgency. They will learn responsibility and the importance of deadlines. You have no paperwork headaches to deal with. By collecting more work on time, you are able to assess students’ ability with a given topic more quickly.

Disadvantages:  Parents will be upset. It penalizes all students, even conscientious ones who make a mistake every once in a while (everyone make mistakes).  The zero on the assignment won’t reflect students’ knowledge of course content. Compiling that many zeros will cause some students to give up early in the nine weeks.

Things to consider:  
  • If you choose to adopt the “no late work ever” policy, I highly encourage you to seek support from your administration and to clearly communicate this policy with parents early and often.
  • It might be a good idea to offer students a “Whoopsie!” pass, which students could use once…or more! per quarter. That way, every student has four times per year that he or she can legitimately make a mistake and not suffer unwarranted consequences. After all, zeros are detrimental.
  • Also, consider the executive functioning of your students. I’ve seen this type of policy successfully used with enriched / advanced high school upper-level classes, but with younger students or at-risk classes, this policy would fail.
  • Ask yourself how you will allow students to practice the skills so that they master the content. If we are being honest, most high school students will not complete a late assignment they know they will not receive credit for just to “prepare for the test.”

Disclaimer: I have never used this late work policy, and it wouldn’t be the one I would advocate for because it skews the overall grade, and it often causes tension between teachers and their students.

Option #2

Deduct a % or a letter grade each day the assignment is late. 

Why? This approach offers students an opportunity to earn credit for their work, but there is still a learning experience involved, and students who turned the assignment in on time are rewarded with full credit.

Advantages:  More students will be passing the class because they won’t have as many zeros. The fact that students know the percentage or letter grade opportunity declines every day motivates them to turn it in more quickly. This approach is more than justifiable to both parents and administration.

Disadvantages:  It’s a little bit of a grading nightmare. Knowing how many days late the assignment would be is usually dependent on the accuracy of the date submitted (which the student typically writes on the paper). If your students are anything like mine, we’re lucky if they write down their name…let alone multiple pieces of information. In addition, because students know they will be able to receive some credit for the assignment, they might wait until the last minute to turn it in.

Things to consider:  
  • Will you have a cut off? In other words, after a certain date (let’s say a week), will students still be able to turn in the assignment?
  • How will you ensure accuracy of the date the student submitted the assignment?

Disclaimer: I have used this policy in the past, but I found keeping track of how many days late an assignment was to be a little bit tedious. And, I really want my students grades to represent learning, not to reflect responsibility.

Option #3

Give a % (let’s say 75% or 50%) of credit for all late work within a unit up until the unit test.

Why? Like option 1, this approach is still a major motivator. No one wants a bad grade on an assignment. Yet, the penalty is not so severe that it causes students to fail.

Advantages:  It’s simple for teachers to grade late work because it’s all worth the same amount of credit. Students are encouraged to complete their assignments within the window that the information applies to the test.

Disadvantages:  A student who turns in the assignment one day late is earning the same amount of credit as the student who submits the assignment two weeks late. With this approach, students still don’t score well on the assignment, but the grade is not as detrimental to their overall score as a zero.

Things to consider:  
  • What percentage would motivate your students to turn in the assignment?
  • What percentage would keep your students passing if they demonstrate understanding of the concept on the assignment (if that’s your goal)?
  • Will you automatically give students the predetermined percentage, regardless of accuracy of answers, or will points be deducted from the highest percentage they can possibly earn (for incorrect or incomplete responses)?

Disclaimer: I’ve used this policy, and it was relatively easy for me to manage, but I didn’t love how it impacted students’ grades…or how it impacted my relationship with students. I think this speaks into where the academic world is right now…caught between traditional and standards-based reporting systems.

Option #4

Have a “no later than” deadline.

Why? Many times, the most value students can get from completing work comes during the unit of study it pertains to. This policy helps both to address student organization and responsibility and to keep assessing late work manageable. Basically, via this route, students can earn full credit up until the deadline you establish.

Advantages:  You don’t have to worry about students turning in assignments months after the due date. Plus, you are being flexible and responsive to student needs, within reason. When using this policy, parent communication is key. If you have given students multiple reminders to complete work and they simply just aren’t doing it, let parents know. This proactive approach will prevent you from possibly having to back-peddle on a late grade after it’s assigned. With this policy, students can always contact you to ask for an extension if they have a valid reason.

Disadvantages: With this approach, your late work stack may still be larger than normal. Depending on how long your units last, you may want to set deadlines before the unit is over. For instance if your Shakespeare unit lasts 7 weeks, you may want to have a mid-point “no later than” date to keep students from having too many assignments outstanding at once.

Things to consider:  
  • Would this approach allow you to better differentiate for students?
  • Could this open doors for more self-paced learning and choices in the types of assignments students are completing?
  • Will you ask students to email their parents to let them know about assignment due dates to help them own their learning?

Note: With the growing movement of standards-based reporting, this seems to be a more viable option. However, you’ll have to consider what will happen if students don’t meet the “no later than date.”

Option #5

Accept all late work with no penalty.

Why? Many people contend that a student’s grade should be a reflection of his or her understanding of course material. It should give an accurate picture of their mastery of standards, not of their responsibility or maturity level.

Advantages:  There’s no headache as far as figuring out how many points to take off. You just don’t! Also, students are more motivated to turn in late work because they can earn full credit if it’s done well. What’s more, there’s a stronger feeling of trust and credibility between teacher and student when teens feel their teachers are on their team.

Disadvantages: In the “real world,” people really are given extensions. However, they aren’t necessarily given an undetermined amount of time to finish a project.

Things to consider:  
  • Would it help parents to communicate late work through a separate indicator? Instead of including it in the grade, would you give students an executive functioning rating or short narrative as a goal-setting point?
  • What is the best way to make this manageable? Do students have tentative or suggested due dates? Are zeros then placed in the grade book until the work is turned in, at which point they can earn full credit? If students do not ever turn the work in, do they get an incomplete or a not achieved?

Note: I’ve seen this type of policy work in situations where students can fluidly move among units without the constraints of nine week or trimester report cards. However, it could work in any situation with careful planning.



Teach students to advocate for themselves. Instead of receiving an angry call from a parent, if a student is upset about a late grade, they should approach you first. Of course, in order to do so, they need to have a good relationship with you. They need to know you have their best interests at heart. Taking time to invest in our students by having frequent conversations and by teaching students self-advocacy skills will pay dividends.


You don’t have to stick with just one option. Choose the one that works best for students, but don’t feel boxed in. You know your students best. If a student who usually struggles works exceptionally hard turns an assignment in late but done well, you may consider giving him or her some grace. Reward their effort and their success with full credit!


Students will be more likely to hold themselves accountable to late work policies when they feel they have helped to define them. Invite students to help you create a fair late work policy at the beginning of the year. Throughout the year, check in with them to monitor the pulse.


We all have different stories. During a time period when students are struggling with social emotional issues more than ever, the conversation matters. If a student has late work, talk with them. What is going on in their life? Perhaps they have emotional situations on their plate that are preventing them from being able to focus on school work like they could otherwise.


Use a parent communication app. Remind 101. Class Dojo. There are many platforms that will allow you to send homework reminders to both students and parents. In my experience, using a parent communication reminder app reduced late work drastically.

Reflection Questions.

  • What is the goal? What lesson do you want students to learn? Do they really need to complete this assignment to show they are at grade level for this skill or standard?
  • How will you manage the gradebook? Will you put in zeros for assignments that are late until they are submitted? If you don’t, how will you remember to go back and enter the missing grades at a later time?
  • Should your school implement some type of homework intervention system so that students who have late work can work during their lunch or study hall periods to submit missing work?
  • How will you deter students from choosing to turn in work late if they know there is no penalty?
  • What will you do about assignment dumping tendencies at the end of the quarter or semester?

Choosing an effective late work policy largely depends on the age, subject, grading system, and track of your students. Teachers need to select a late work policy that encourages independence, responsibility, and work ethic without alienating or punishing students punitively. Which late work policy is the “right” one? The answer is different for each instructor.

Interested in diving further into the late work policy discussion? Listen in on a podcast conversation I had with Todd Bedard from Teachers as Leaders.

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5 Common Classroom Management Issues and Solutions in Secondary

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