Handling Absences

Teachers spend countless hours crafting courses in which lessons build carefully upon each other, and constructing grading systems that are valid and transparent. But our syllabi and grading systems often do not plan for the student who has two excused absences, and two more not-quite-sure-if-they-are-excused absences by midterms. These "grey areas" can take a huge amount of teacher time and energy, especially if the student in question is on the margins of failing the class.

As you consider your policy on absences, bear in mind the following guidelines:

  • Your grades should reflect the student's work. All grades you assign must be related to work (major assignments, in-process assignments and building block assignments) the student has done in your class. Students should never receive a grade for simply physically (or electronically) showing up.
  • Students may not be penalized purely for being absent if they have an excused absence. The Academy defines excused absences as those due to: a medical emergency (for the student or an immediate family member for whom they are responsible); an officially-excused AAU game related absence; and illness (which is bad enough to prevent the student from coming to or staying through class.) Note that teachers sometimes need to make judgment calls about students who are ill, as we cannot require students to go to a doctor.

Clarify with your students that whenever possible:


1-they must notify you (and classmates, if appropriate) in advance if they are going to be absent.
2-they need to provide documentation for excused absences.


Clarify your late work policy. When is late work due? If a student knows she or he will be absent in advance, will you require the work be turned in on time anyway? Can a student submit work electronically? How can you keep track of adjusted deadlines?

Determine make up work options. How can students reasonably make up the work (and more importantly, learn the content) that they missed? A few options:

  • Have students attend another section of the course that you teach, if possible and approved by your director.
  • Have students attend a workshop appropriate to the course you are teaching
  • Blanket make up work assignments can apply to any week of the semester and may look something like this:
    • Check in with 2-3 classmates and write a one-page summary of what was covered in class that day.
    • Write a one-page reaction paper in response to the missed day's discussion topic.
    • Critique someone else's work, focusing on the principle of that week's missed critique.
  • Class-specific make up work needs to be determined by the teacher. Quizzes, worksheets or collaborative tasks can be fairly easy for students to complete independently.
  • If you feel that making up a minor in-class assignment is more trouble than it is worth, you may ignore the missed work and calculate the grade based on work that the student has turned in. In Easy Grade Pro, leaving the box blank calculates the grade as if that assignment never existed. (A zero is calculated as the lowest possible F.)
  • A variation on the last option is to toss out the two lowest classwork grades at the end of the semester.

Be sure to clear any approach that you use with your department director, and communicate the policy to your students clearly as early as possible in the semester.


Lynda Espana is the Academic Coordinator for Athletics at the ARC.

Contact her for questions related to absences due to athletic competition.
415-618-3813 |