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How Much Deadline Flexibility on Formative Assessments Should We Be Giving to Our Students?

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

COED: Grading Systems

Tagged Division

Computers in Education Division (COED)

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Paper Authors


Chenyan Zhao University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Undergraduate computer science and mathematics student at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Research interest in AI in computer science education

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Matthew West University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Matthew West is a Professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Mariana Silva University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Mariana Silva is a Teaching Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Silva is known for her teaching innovations and educational studies in large-scale assessments and collaborative learning. She has participated in two major overhauls of large courses in the College of Engineering: she played a key role in the re-structure of the three Mechanics courses in the Mechanical Science and Engineering Department, and the creation of the new computational-based linear algebra course, which was fully launched in Summer 2021. Silva research focuses on the use of web-tools for class collaborative activities, and on the development of online learning and assessment tools. Silva is passionate about teaching and improving the classroom experience for both students and instructors.

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Recent studies have proposed new ways of providing learning experiences and measuring students’ achievement of learning goals, grounded on the principles of growth mindset, mastery learning, and specifications grading. In one initiative called “A’s for All (as time and interest allow)”, students are given the support to achieve the proficiency they want (not necessarily an A) as long as they are willing to put in the time and effort, thus providing students more control over their learning. One mechanism to support proficiency at different paces is to soften some of the assignment deadlines. This can be easily implemented using computer-based assignments that are autograded with immediate feedback, following a mastery approach.

In this study we investigate one particular flexible deadline policy, in which the summative assessment (exam) dates are kept fixed but the formative assessments are given more flexible deadlines. We collected data from an upper-division required undergraduate computer science course offered at a large public research university including 375 students in Fall 2021. The course followed a flipped format, where students completed the following formative assessments: pre-lecture assignments with checkpoints, in-class collaborative learning activities and homework. All assessments were computer-based and auto-graded with unlimited attempts and immediate feedback. The summative assessments (exams) were scheduled every other week, starting from week 3, including the content of 3-4 homework and pre-lecture assignments.

The formative assessments used a mixed deadline schedule. To receive full credit in homework and pre-lectures, students were required to complete them within one week from the starting date. We kept this deadline to encourage students to stay on track with the course material. A flexible deadline was added for the formative assessments, namely that students were able to submit homework until the end of the semester for 96% credit and pre-lectures for 80% credit (there was no late deadline offered for group activities, since they were completed during lecture). This end-of-semester deadline offers an intermediate position between completely fixed deadlines, and completely flexible (where students can decide to take summative assessments at a later time as well).

Our first finding is that the flexible schedule resulted in fewer students completing the formative assessments, both before the exams and by the end of the semester. In particular, only 22% of the students completed the homework before the 100% deadline, 50% completed before the corresponding quiz, and 68% completed before the end of the semester. For comparison, in Fall 2019 74% of the students in the same course completed the homework by the one-week deadline.

Our second finding is that formative assessment completion was correlated with better performance on the exams, even when controlling for student GPA. We split the class into three groups based on their submission pattern: group 1 submitted the majority of assignments of each type (homework and pre-lectures) by the quiz date, group 3 did not submit the majority of assignments of any type by the quiz date, and group 2 was the remaining students with a mixed assignment completion rate. Linear regression results controlling for student GPA show that students in group 1 had 13.3% higher scores in exams and group 3 had 11.3% lower scores in exams, both compared to group 2.

We concluded that the system of fixed summative assessment dates and flexible formative assessment deadlines was detrimental to a substantial number of students. When the summative assessment dates are fixed, we thus conclude that more strict deadline policies are needed for formative assessments in order to support good time management practices.

Zhao, C., & West, M., & Silva, M. (2023, June), How Much Deadline Flexibility on Formative Assessments Should We Be Giving to Our Students? Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--43372

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