Deadlines Matter: Debunking the Myth That Standards-Based Grading Means No Deadlines

In the real world the chronic misbehavior of missing deadlines is rarely tolerated. People can lose jobs over too many missed deadlines. They can miss out on first-come-first-serve situations where demand exceeds supply like those popular concert tickets that went on sale at noon and are gone within the hour. What about students? When I was a teacher ten years ago my students lost the ability to get the best possible grade when they missed a deadline. I was a big fan of policies such as ten points off for each day late or if you don’t do the work you will have to take a zero on the assignment and suffer the consequences. I was always shocked to have students who would take the time to calculate which assignments they could afford to take a low grade on by not doing (or doing late) and still get the final course average they were hoping for, until I realized that I did the same thing when I was a student.

My school, like many across the country, has abandoned traditional grading and reporting for a competency-based approach. In such a model, traditional grades have changed for the better. Academic grades are separated from academic behaviors like meeting deadlines, participating in class, and leaving perfect margins. No longer do teachers combine academic indicators of what students have learned with academic behaviors like a big pot of beef stew that just blends everything together into a monotone flavor. Competency-based schools report out on the level of mastery students achieve for each and every course competency, as well as their mastery of key academic behaviors.

The problem my school has had to face, like many schools who move to this model, is how to make sure that the academic behaviors like meeting deadlines stay relevant and meaningful for students. There is a big myth in education that if you move your school to a competency-based model then students won’t see the importance of deadlines and you will hence have a higher-than-normal rate of students not completing work on time. I am here to tell you from experience that this myth can be true or false and it depends on two important factors:

  1. Teachers need to be effective at changing their instructional practices and their approach to working with students on the behavior of meeting deadlines.
  2. The school needs to have an effective system in place to monitor and communicate academic behaviors, thus holding students accountable for their behavior.

The argument that deadlines become lost in a competency-based grading and reporting system is, in my opinion, a moot point. I argue that this perspective needs to be turned around and educators need to ask this question: “When my school moves to a competency-based model, what will I do to ensure that students meet all the expectations, both academic and behavioral, that I set for them?” Hold your students accountable for high standards and don’t let them off the hook for missing too many deadlines. They will thank you later in life.

Read the entire article by Brian Stack on CompetencyWorks at

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1 Response to Deadlines Matter: Debunking the Myth That Standards-Based Grading Means No Deadlines

  1. Jim says:

    I appreciate your rigor in maintaining standards. Unfortunately, my direct experience in business over more than 20 years is that business does not value deadlines. Everything gets pushed back. Maybe it is still a great goal, but business (reality) doesn’t care much. I’m not happy about that, but it is real.

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