Excused vs. Unexcused

A teacher in my department told me she gives a student a zero on assignments assigned when the student has an unexcused absence. Now, I have discussed my feelings on grading and late work before, so my response was “how does that help the student?” This created an interesting exchange between us. While we do not agree, we did have a great conversation.

My contention is that holding a student’s grade hostage is not an effective motivator. If a student is habitually absent, I’m willing to conjecture that grades are not foremost on the student’s mind. This also feels overly punitive to me since every psychology class I’ve ever taken details how reward is more effective than coercion for changing behavior.

Also, I truly believe that the reason a student is absent is unimportant. Who cares about the reason? My job is to teach and help students achieve, not to look for ways to deduct points. I want my students to attempt every practice, not just select ones.

I think the idea of excused and unexcused absences is somewhat silly anyway (looking at this from a classroom teacher’s perspective only). Either a student is present and I can help him, or the student is absent and I cannot. The reason is essentially trivial.

Many teachers to whom I have spoken, including the one mentioned above, say we need to teach students business skills like punctuality, discipline, and work ethic. However, I have never seen these skills mentioned in the learning targets for my content area; still, I want my students to gain these skills but not as part of their grade. The grade should represent what a student has achieved.

I’m going to an all-day professional development session this Thursday regarding grading and what grades mean. I’ll post about the session and fill y’all in on what I learn.

12 thoughts on “Excused vs. Unexcused

  1. Mystery Teacher

    I prefer your way of thinking. I believe that students should be graded on their work. Not their non-work. If assignments are missing, I keep them in during lunch recess and they do it or sit there every day until they do. It also gives me a chance to be one-on-one with them in case they don’t understand. I am not mean about it. I just want them to learn.

  2. Clix

    I think our policy about no credit for work from unexcused absences is set at the district level but I’m not sure. I do know it’s out of my hands, and it encourages parents to lie. ;p

  3. Anonymous

    I co-teach freshman biology and I have this issue every day. My co-teacher and I have come up with a relatively reasonable solution. We accept late work with a deduction of points. Her kids get more of a break than mine, but not much. I came from the business world so I agree about the need to be prompt, punctual and prepared; but we are TRAINING these kids to be so. They do not come ready made for the “real” world.

  4. drpezz Post author


    I would agree about the needs to be prompt, punctual, and prepared, but I would disagree that I am training them for the business world, per se. I teach students reading and writing skills they can use in all areas of their lives. Students really learn those business skills when they work for someone, and my students’ grades will not reflect my values.

    I can help the students with the needs listed above, but I will not include them as part of a representation of student achievement because those three needs are part of the curriculum.

    However, I do try to entice students to be good citizens and workers through the relationships built in class.

  5. Clix

    *browlift* Yeah, THAT sends a good message to students.

    There are several policies that I don’t agree with, but breaking the rules and being deceitful about it is not something I think is right under ANY circumstances.

  6. drpezz Post author

    The reason I suggested it is that there are times that a one-size-fits-all mandate may not be what is best for kids. Do those zeroes create a situation where kids give up? Are all of the absences the fault of the child (rather than the parent)? Could paperwork rather than knowledge and ability determine a student’s grade?

    How do you bring the grading conversation to the forefront?

  7. Hugh ODonnell

    Dr. Pezz, Some folks call standards-based grading the “last frontier in education reform,” but I think we’re farther along than that. Critical mass has been attained, the buzz is world-wide, and teachers (and administrators) who don’t “get it” are about to be regarded as Neanderthal educators. (Oooo, I feel the unlove coming from the disbelievers, but hey, not my problem.)

    Keep walking the walk, Doc!

  8. Clix

    I agree with you about zeroes skewing averages, but where I work, a parent note will excuse an absence. So, if the absence is the parent’s fault and the parent won’t write a note for the kid, I’m thinkin’ the kid’s got more to worrry about than grades. šŸ˜‰

  9. Hugh ODonnell

    Clix, we (the school board) just recently 86’d a policy that differentiated between excused and unexcused absences for that very reason…parental neglect, or worse, “creativity.” We’re gonna treat absence as absence with no additional punishments that affect a student’s grade. (Check my recent posts for more details.)

  10. Pingback: Standards-Based Grading « The Doc Is In

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