If You Use Standards- or Mastery-Based Grading, What If Students Don't Complete or Turn In Work?

While thinking and researching about how to best handle formative practices (homework and in-class assignments) which go undone or missing under SBG, I came across some articles which might also interest some of you.  Of course what role deadlines should play is also a part of our discussion at my school so I researched that as well.  What I've found so far will serve as food for thought during the summer for me.  

I am not campaigning for any particular approach; I am just trying to educate myself on how others solve this challenge.  I still hope to have ongoing discussions and hear your thoughts about all this.  Feel free to email me directly or comment if you wish.  We are all still learners!  As always, take what you like and leave the rest!

[Let's agree up-front that it's a given our formative practice/homework is ideally meaningful, engaging, and not overly burdensome.  The practice also should be directly related to helping students meet the standards upon which they will be assessed summatively.]

1.  The Weighted Average Approach?  As most of you know, Marzano suggests, "To avoid inaccurate summative scores, teachers can give more weight to (formative) scores at the end of the unit, which generally best reflect students’ level of mastery (p. 28)."  from https://www.marzanoresearch.com/resources/tips/fasbg_tips_archive#tip5.  
This feels unnaturally cumbersome and confusing to me, although I'm willing to do it if ASFM chooses that route. However, I was looking for better alternatives.
2.  How to Handle Missing (Practice/Formative) Work in a Mastery (SBG) Based Grading System  from JumpRope, the SBG System https://support.jumpro.pe/hc/en-us/articles/200052565-How-does-missing-work-fit-into-mastery-based-grading-:
My stance is that this grading revolution does not need to be backed up or hedged with attempts to make it fit within the framework of a traditional grading system.  Entering zeros for missing work is just such a balk: it is an attempt to make sure that students are penalized for not completing work, and it sacrifices the quality of the data you have on what students know.  Ask yourself this: if a student doesn't turn in a piece of work, what could it mean?  Here are a few explanations off of the top of my head, along with the reasons why giving them a zero may be a counter-agent to this grading revolution (please forgive my generalizations):
    • The student was lazy.  By giving them a zero, you're doing what every other teacher EVER has done in the past (which has clearly not fixed the issue, as evidenced by the fact that they didn't turn in the assignment to you either).  Seriously, though, this student knows full well how their lack of work effects their "grade," which they've clearly stopped caring about - or perhaps they know how to "game" the system so that they just barely pass.  If you were to similarly REFUSE COURSE CREDIT until the student demonstrates level 2 (minimum) mastery on at least 2/3 of learning targets for your class, the student must suddenly think about which standards need to be mastered, seek out resources, and have to figure out a whole new system to "game" (during which time he might actually learn something).  More work for you?  Certainly.  But there's no way around that in any world, if you want them to learn.  By leaving the scores blank, you're bucking the system that hasn't worked on him for years.
    • The student was sick, out for family reasons, or otherwise legitimately excused.  Students in such cases often come back to see piles of work to catch up on.  What if, instead of "doing all the work," the goal was to "learn all of the material"?  Is that such a bad thing?
Furthermore, these reasons (and most others that I can think of) for missing work are more accurately described as "character" than as "academics," so why not be explicit about it?  Our grading system supports multiple learning target types (explained more here) which are designed to separately track different types of learning goals (each of which can ultimately impact final grades).
For these reasons, our official "opinion" on this matter is the following:
  1. For any significant assessment that has a due date, align the assessment to a character standard (consider "I can complete work on time.") in addition to all relevant academic standards.
  2. Then, work with your school to tweak the "weight" of the character standards so that it has an appropriate impact on their final grades as described in the article linked above.
  3. When entering scores for a student that has not turned in the assessment, leave all academic targets blank (or use the missing assessment code for your school, which is usually an A, M, or U) and happily give the student a 0 on the character target.  
3.   Accurate Grading with a Standards-Based Mindset   from a webinar transcript by Tom Schimmer at https://tomschimmer.com/category/grading/ in the context of discussing (Practice/Formative)  work:
“…but it only counts for a small percentage of a student’s final grade,” some might argue, “so it doesn’t really matter.” I suppose on one level that might be true, however, ... my point is that if learning (and the accurate reporting of a student’s achievement) is our priority, then emphasizing points clearly misses the mark. It’s not how much the inclusion of homework impacts the student’s final grade; it’s that it does in the first-place.
Still, others may proclaim (and wholeheartedly believe) that, “…if I don’t grade it, they won’t do it.”Again, while that might be the paradigm in a classroom, we have to ask ourselves who is responsible for creating that paradigm. We must recognize that students don’t enter school in Kindergarten with a point accumulation mindset; the K student never asks her teacher if the painting is for points! So where do they learn that? Somewhere in their experience points (and grades) become a priority for the adults…so they become a priority for students. Parents and students also contribute to this mindset, but we have to acknowledge our role as well. Also, if the only thing motivating students to complete any assignment is the promise of points then we really have to consider whether the assignment is truly worth completing in the first place. Again, is homework a means or an end?
4.  Deadlines Matter: Debunking the Myth That Standards-Based Grading Means No Deadlines
 from   Competency Works at
Wormeli (2006) argues, “a grade represents a clear and accurate indicator of what a student knows and is able to do—mastery.”  Deadlines are important, but if we factor in the behavior of turning an assignment in on time or not into an overall assignment grade, then we are watering down our whole grading system.
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.
I have compiled the following summary of instructional practices from conversations with teachers in my school who have had the highest success rate over the past three years in getting their students to regularly adhere to deadlines:
    • They often adopt a take no prisoners approach at the beginning of the school year when it comes to working with students who miss a deadline. They instill a belief in students that no one is going to let them out of doing the work, and they can avoid harassment by adults if they simply turn things in on time.
    • They build in multiple opportunities to check in with students on their progress on major summative assignments. If they aren’t making the progress they should be making to meet a deadline, they take steps to resolve it right away.
    • They start parent communication as soon as a student misses a deadline. Many have told me that a simple phone call home often results in getting the work the very next day.
    • They assign the student mandatory time with them to work on the assignment outside of the classroom – either in a study hall, flex period, or before or after school. This practice is supported by O’Connor (2009).
    • They let students know that if they do not turn in an assignment on the due date, then the student may be held to a different rubric with higher expectations. Wormeli (2006) endorses this practice, encouraging teachers to “reserve the right to change the format for all redone work and assignments”. It stands to reason that as time passes during a school year students acquire more course-specific skills and knowledge and therefore can be held to a higher standard in all of their work for that course.
2. The school needs to have an effective system in place to monitor and communicate academic behaviors (aside from learning mastery scores), thus holding students accountable for their behavior.
In our school-wide system, meeting a deadline is a behavior expectation just like any other school rule. Following the suggestions of Guskey (2009), our school does not punish academic student misbehavior with low grades, but rather motivates students by considering their work as incomplete and then requiring additional effort. As a school, we address this student academic misbehavior through a tiered approach that operates like this:
    • First the teacher will try to address the misbehavior at the classroom level with the student.
    • If that doesn’t work, the teacher may involve other adults from the school that know the student (counselors, case managers, or a team leader) in the conversation with the student.
    • If that doesn’t work, the teacher will involve the parent or guardian in the conversation.
    • Finally, if all else fails, the teacher will make a behavior referral to an administrator for additional support. The administrator will then work through a series of actions in an effort to address the misbehavior.
    • The student grade will be marked as IWS, which stands for insufficient work shown, while the issue is addressed. IWS grades that are not resolved by the end of a course result in a course failure and no credit for the course.
Is the system in place at my school designed to address misbehavior perfectly? It is far from it....The key to this approach is that we have identified academic behaviors as a school-wide issue with common expectations for student behavior and developed responses—as a school—when they don’t meet those expectations.
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.
.  From Matt Townsley,  
Here is my biggest bit of advice: In traditional grading, when a student does not turn in an assignment, we give them a zero, but do not talk with them about it. We assume they’re going to “learn” from the zero. Instead, I tried something different in my later years as a high school teacher.  It went something like this…"
Class, the purpose of homework in this class is practice.  Although homework is not worth any points, it is still very important.  The purpose of homework is practice!  Just like you practice for a small group speech contest, vocal music solo or volleyball game, practicing is important in math class.  Turn to your neighbor and share with them two reasons you believe practicing in math class is important and one reason why you might be tempted to not complete homework in this class….Okay, who can share with me a summary of their partner discussion?  How many of you talked about the importance of practice in doing well on tests?…."
Then, when a student (inevitably) decides to not turn in an assignment a few days later, have a good ole fashioned one-on-one, sit down conversation with him/her.
Why did you decide not to do this assignment?
How well do you think you’ll do on the next assessment?
I’ve found this to be a relationship building exercise and gives me a better idea how I can help the student. Sometimes students are going through tough times at home. Other times, they’re lost conceptually and don’t want to admit it.
This is not a cure-all type of solution, but one that I and other educators using standards-based grading practices have found to be helpful.

[Personally I almost always take issue with the whole "if teachers had better relationships all kids would pass with flying colors, do all their work, never be tardy, etc." mindset.  Of course we know relationships are essential or we probably wouldn't be teachers! However, we all know that even with good rapport, our students will be only partially mature humans -- they are still developing responsibility and ethics.  My relationship with them can only guide, not change, them.]

That's plenty of material to ponder for today.  I hope something in this post was clarifying for you.