Due Dates and Deadlines and Competency Ed


In competency-based education, our job as educators is to coach and support students as they work toward competency.

This makes assessment tough:  We know that some students work slower than others.  Some work faster.   Some don’t work at all because they have no idea how to start.

Despite this, the school year does eventually end.  So we set goals and deadlines for summative assessments.

And many secondary educators academically penalize students for late assessments, or assessments not passed in at all, because: “IN THE ‘REAL WORLD’ THEY WILL HAVE DEADLINES AND THEY NEED TO KNOW THAT DEADLINES ARE IMPORTANT.”

Let’s be honest here:
How many of us here, “in the real world,” have missed a deadline or negotiated an extension?  

While I sit and type this, my car is 2,500 miles overdue for an oil change.
My car will forgive me, and it probably won’t die before I can schedule one soon.


The furniture truck also got stuck in the snow at the end of the driveway on the day of delivery.  Oh, New Hampshire.

A few weeks ago, a furniture delivery I was expecting had to reschedule, due to icy roads leading to my home in New Hampshire.  I forgave the furniture guys, because we rescheduled and they delivered the next week. 

Many years ago, I worked at an academic publishing company.  Lightning hit our print shop, our schedule fell behind, and all of our books would be late.  The schools forgave our company, because we gave them our best work, even though it arrived a few days late.  They even ordered again the following year.



In many schools, it’s common to give zeros for missing work, and expected that students should lose points for late work.  I’m ashamed to say that I’ve caved to these expectations in the past.  It made me feel rotten.  

Because of that rotten feeling, I don’t academically penalize students for late work anymore.  Honestly, it doesn’t even make sense to me to do so.  I don’t give zeros on summative assessments.  I bother students until they complete them.  

This year, I’ve consistently told my students that if they’re not turning in their best work on the due date, I’d rather take it the next day.  Or the day after that.

I tell them that if they’re not finished with their assigned book, they shouldn’t even start the assessment until they do.  We make new plans.  This makes me controversial.

27972757_10100951526979547_6918545332140961438_nThis week, my students had a summative project due on their 1930s book club books. In the days before the due date, I told students that if they felt like they couldn’t meet this due date, for whatever reason, all I asked was that they communicate.

And by the night before the due date, I’d received 35 emails from students, telling me that they wouldn’t have it done on time.

Yes, 35.

Now, while you might think I’d be screaming inside, I felt a weird sense of peace.

I was elated. My students understood that “best work” and competency took precedent over producing a rushed project, just to meet an arbitrary deadline.

More than that, I was happy that they’d learned to take responsibility for procrastination, to be proactive, and to communicate, and to make a new plan for completion.

That’s a life skill.  

On the original due date, a few days ago, only a small percentage of completed projects came in, and they all represented great work.

A larger amount came in yesterday, and they also showed great work.  I’m still waiting for some projects, and I’m confident that they’ll also represent great work.

In the end, what’s more important:  meeting a due date with junk that will probably need to be reassessed, or communicating your struggles, making a plan, and showing your best work a little late?

I vote for the latter, even if I’m taking still taking late work in June.







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