question for non-attendance policy people

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OK, I have a further question stemming from the attendance discussion.  I have an attendance policy, but I see the reasoning for not having one (as well as the appeal of not having to mess with attendance sheets, etc.).  I also really hate having to be in the position of asking for a documented "excuse" of some sort (doctor, funeral, etc.), like I'm judging that one person's tragedy is worth more than another's  (Oh, so sorry Jeeves!  If _both_ parents had died in that fiery car wreck, then it would be excused!).  

My question then, for those of you who don't have an attendance policy, is this: what do you when students miss an exam, or aren't there to hand something in, or miss an in-class assignment?  Is anyone allowed to make anything up, or are you then in the position of asking for an "excuse" anyway?   How do you balance what's fair to the individual student (they're grown-ups and can make up their own minds) and what's fair to all the other students (who manage to turn things in on time, and don't get extra time to study for an exam by taking it late), and also to the instructor (who then has to grade things that come trickling in past the time you've set aside for grading that stack of assignments)?  I do a lot of in-class group work--if someone isn't there that day, do they just not do that assignment?  I currently have a system where you get points for doing an in-class assignment, and where I stress e-mailing a writing assignment by deadline if you won't be in class that way, but I still end up with students who want to either turn things in late, or who want to be "excused" so they aren't penalized for the in-class assignment points.  Then I'm cast into the same awkward situation of asking for a documented excuse, and coming up with some alternate written assignment that I then have to grade (and I already have a 5/5 load as it is--I don't have a lot of extra time for dealing with make-up exams and assignments).

So what do the non-attendance policy people do in these situations?  Does anyone get to make any assignment or exam up for any reason?  Or do you still have some kind of policy for who gets to make what up?  I mean all my questions seriously, not as some veiled jab at non-attendance policy instructors...I'm very seriously considering coming over to the dark side of the non-attendance policy world.


Like you, Mouse, I hate to be put in the position of sorting out genuine unexpected hardship from well-delivered lies.  

However, I have no qualms about denying students opportunities to make up in-class work or inflicting late penalties on assignments.  Even if they're sick, they still have more time to complete their papers which is a significant advantage over students who responsibly turn in their papers on time.  I drop their grades on late papers one full grade per week (.2 per day on a 4.0 scale).  

Creating alternate exams and written assignments is way above the call of duty.  So is repeating class material as a tutorial for students who miss class.  I'm surprised by the increasing number of students who ask me to summarize the day's demonstration in e-mail for them; I tell them maybe they can get notes from another student.  Some say they can't really understand the assignment without it, and I say well, that's why they need to attend.

I do try to have a lot of small assignments early in the semester so that students have a chance to learn the potential consequence of absence without half their course grade at stake.


Dear Mouse,

I do not take attendance.  My syllabi incorporate group assignments with points, exams, and papers.  The policy which is stated on the syllabus and restated the first day of class is that missed group assignments result in lower points for the individual and over time that translates to a lower grade.  Exams are given on the day stated, and if missed, the student can arrange with the office staff within a one week period to take a more difficult alternative exam.  Papers not submitted either hard copy or via e-mail by the end of the class period on the due date are considered late.

I do not like trickle in papers or exams either, I loath them, and make certain that the students understand that my dislike is reflected in grading.   So, in the five years in which I have been teaching, both small and large classes, few students have taken the alternative exam and the papers arrive, for the most part, on the due date, and I do not have to deal with lame excuses.

I had a student a few years ago who came to every class, did the work, but didnt hand in a single assignment. She had told me in early on in the term that her mother was quite ill and she was deciding to drop one of her 5 classes, but she never dropped mine.  Anyways, on the absolutely last day before i was handing in her marks she handed in every assignment. I gave her a bare passing grade.

If she hadnt come to all of the classes or if she had come to only 70% of classes I would have failed her.

I just felt discretion was in order.

I allow students to retake one exam at the end of the semester. If a student misses an exam, they receive a grade of 0 and they then are allowed to retake that exam. If a student takes all of the exams, they can choose to retake one of their exams or not. If a student misses more than one exam, the are still allowed to only retake one exam.

My papers have a late penalty of 5% of the grade per day. I have in class debates that students cannot make up. Once the group debate is over, it is over and there is no way to make up the assignment. Students work in groups throughout the semester on their debates. I check in with the groups and keep track of which students are there. If a student is not there, I ask if they have communicated with the group (they exchange phone numbers and email addresses at the beginning of the semester). If they have, I note that. If they have not, they lose points.

In all of my policies, I add the sentence: "The instructor may grant an exception to this policy." I grant an exception in extreme cases such as the student who was hospitalized with pneumonia or the student diagnosed with cancer. This statement does not force me to grant an exception. In fact, in eight years of including it in my syllabi no student has ever pointed to it and demanded an exception.

Other than these extreme cases which happen once every few years, my policies do not involve me having to evaluate student's reasons for missing the assignment or exam. "You missed an exam, take it on retake exam day." "Your paper is two days late, it loses this many points." Also, the policies apply to everyone, so I do not have to judge one student's excuse versus another.


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