How do we separate achievement and effort?

Our family recently stayed at my parent’s place, on our way to a short family vacation in Madison. My mother was rummaging around in some of my stuff from my school career and pulled out a college paper I had composed. Written on the title page of my work (a report about The Doors for an elective course in American music) were three words:

Two days late.

I remember this work because I actually enjoyed writing it. We were allowed to choose which musician(s) to research. The professor left a number of positive comments on it with regard to the content and organization of the paper. After rereading it, I thought I had provided some sound conclusions about the influence of The Doors on other artists and rock and roll in general. It was saved since the 1990s, when I took the course, if that says anything.

What I don’t remember is that it was two days late. Really – no clue. My best guess is that I probably didn’t organize my time well enough to complete it by the due date. College offers a lot of distractions! 🙂 There were a few grammatical errors that might have been corrected had I been more diligent about a writing schedule, something I try to do now.

At the end of the paper was my grade = C. The biggest factor: The 20% that was docked off my final score, 10% for each day late. I was given a C for an A paper.

That was back in the 90’s. Education has come so far since then.

In a column written for Education Week, Nancy Flanigan addresses the varied comments left on a teacher’s post. The subject of the post was the failure of her students to complete her assigned activity while she was away. “What an incompetent sub! Give ’em all zeros!” and “Candy and a free day for the five compliant ones!” were a few suggestions.

Being able to communicate a student’s attitude and responsibility a part from their understandings and skills is an issue still today. There isn’t a perfect system. Standard-based grading gets us closer. But, with all of the standards teachers need to tackle, the management itself of this type of reporting can become overwhelming and burdensome.

What have you found more effective in separating achievement from effort? Please share in the comments and start a conversation.


Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

2 thoughts on “How do we separate achievement and effort?”

  1. If we want things to change, we have to change them ourselves, don’t we? I guess taking off marks for being late equated to teaching skills of organisation and responsibility. I’m pleased to see you remain proud of your work, despite the grading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In an effort to engage the less motivated students, the ones that often turn assignments in late, or only after my reminding them, I choose not to take points off. Sometimes, the student just has a lot going on and school is the farthest thing from their mind. I also have the students grade some of their own papers before they turn them in. They are usually pretty honest about it and will grade themselves accordingly. I try to focus on what they did well on and give feedback to encourage them to make corrections or revise and resubmit the paper or assignment to me. Mark Barnes, Pernille Ripp and others have written some excellent pieces on grading. I have read them all and it has really had an effect on how I grade my students. Of course I still have to follow our counties guidelines, but it has made a difference for my students.

    Liked by 1 person

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