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Posted at 12:59 PM ET, 10/29/2009

Should sick kids have to make up all missed school work?

By Valerie Strauss

So your kid is sick for a week, misses two tests, three quizzes, four papers and a week’s worth of homework in every class.

He/she goes back to school, and the teachers in every class say, “Welcome back. Now you have to do your current work and make up everything you missed. And don’t take too long.”

Unless, of course, your child’s teacher is one of those who tell the kids to do the work WHILE they are sick. That happens.

Your child has a panic attack, feeling very behind and fearing he/she can’t catch up. You then have a panic attack of your own.

I know there is nothing new about kids getting sick, staying home from school, and then having to make up the work.

But I always have thought--and do especially now--that teachers should come up with a way to make it easier for kids to get back into the mainstream. Not all kids need to do all the work to get caught up so they can participate and feel comfortable in the classroom.

Not all homework is actually necessary, not all quizzes/tests have to be taken, not all reports must be written.

With the swine flu epidemic sweeping the country, we are in a situation where federal health officials are urging families to keep kids home even if they look like they might get sick next week. And then to stay home that extra day to make sure they really are well.

I worry that more kids than ever are being set up to fall behind, and perhaps never catch up.

There will be those folks who say it is “only fair” that all students do the same work, that sick kids shouldn't get a break, that kids would stay home all the time if they knew they didn't have to do all the work.

Please. There are attendance requirements; kids can't stay out too much. And insisting everybody does everything the same is a real bastardization of the concept of fairness--especially when it comes to education. What is fair is what helps each child learn the best and most they can.

There will also be those who say some teachers have so many students that they can’t individualize a catch-up plan. If that is the case, then perhaps they don’t have to individualize it. They can create a plan that works for everybody who is out for a week, or two weeks.

What do you think? What experiences have your own children had?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 29, 2009; 12:59 PM ET
Categories:  Homework  | Tags:  homework, make-up work, sick kids, swine flu  
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While I can't comment on this as a parent, I can comment on this as an educator. When someone is absent for an extended amount of time and everything is excused, I am rather flexible about make-up work. I understand that my students have 6 other teachers and I am open to certain things so as long as it is obvious that the student is making an effort. Many parents (and students themselves) make an effort to contact the teachers to get make-up work ASAP to maximize their time. Also, we teachers are supposed to update our assignments regularly on the county's Blackboard website so all students and parents know what is going on and when. The only time that my back is up against a wall in terms of deadlines is regarding report card time and anything to do with seniors since colleges are knocking on our door waiting for scores and grades. Even then, as long as everyone is communicating then some plan can be figured out, it just might require a little more work.

Posted by: zeptattoo | October 29, 2009 8:36 PM | Report abuse

I teach elementary school, and I guess we can be much more lenient with make-up work. I just have students make up unit tests, since I have to report each and every score to the principal. I would never load them down with make-up homework.

Posted by: anpanman | October 29, 2009 9:33 PM | Report abuse

My son had two concussions and the flu last year as a junior in high school. While he did not miss any days of school from the concussions (he did with the flu) it took a good week for him to get back to normal each time. The teachers were wonderful and allowed him to make up work over a period of time. Thank goodness they would have been extremely tough for him to have gotten caught up in a couple of days and stay up to speed with the new information being covered. And yes...the kids should make up the is primarily classwork, quizes and tests vs homework that is required to be made up. All of this should help the students master the subject matter.

Posted by: knoxelcomcastnet | October 29, 2009 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Thanks so much for bringing up this issue. My son always goes back to school before he's really well, because he knows it will be such torture to make up missed work.

Posted by: kc0896 | October 29, 2009 11:25 PM | Report abuse

I teach middle school math and the biggest problem with absences is not the make-up work, but that the students missed instruction and now the class is building on that knowledge for the next topic. In essence, by missing, the student also misses the material even when she's returned because the new material doesn't make sense.

In my class, it doesn't really matter whether the student has done ALL the make-up work, but it matters greatly for the student to know at least the basics so she can move on with the rest of class.

Posted by: billybob123 | October 30, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

My child has been absent this school year due to swine flu. When she got back to school, one of her teachers wouldn't let her make up her missed assignments even though it was an excused absence. Others would let her come in early or stay late to do the work. And still we have others who just didn't care one way or the other.

My child is an 8th grader, and she is one of the best students in all her classes, but unfortunately, I'm dealing with teacher apathy, incompetence, and bitterness in a poorly-funded school and system.

Posted by: fantasyjoker | October 30, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Oh how I hated make-up work from being absent. One thing that schools now have available and should be using daily is assigments on the internet. If the child or parent can access the assignments and work then some attempt can be made to keep up. A teacher who won't allow or give missed work or information to a student whether or not the absence is excused or not should not be teaching.

I thought that the whole idea behind being a teacher is focusing on helping that student be the best they can be. Teach by example, or quit.

Posted by: tecatesdream | October 30, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Of course they should make up the work. Why is this even under discussion? The student is expected to learn X, Y, and Z during the time missed. They still need to learn it.

That said, I don't see much benefit in forcing the make-up work into an arbitrarily short time-frame. As long as it's completed by the end of the term, that should suffice.

Posted by: HerndonBiker | October 30, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Herndonbiker says: The student is expected to learn X, Y, and Z during the time missed. They still need to learn it.

However, there is a diffreence between lerning X, Y, and Z and doing the make-up work. A good teacher can assign enough work to determine if the material was "mastered" without requiring that multiple pages of similar work be done. It is the learning that is important, not the work.

Posted by: baseballguy | October 30, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Fantasyjoker, I think you should take this issue to the principal. It is unreasonable to expect an ill child to keep up with daily work on Blackboard. The best teachers my children had were also the ones who said "No, I'm not sending home any assignments, tell him/her to focus on getting better."

Posted by: los22 | October 30, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

At my school it was expected that you did all your homework and all the work that was done in class while you were sick on your own. Another student in your class was assigned to walk by your house everyday and tell you (or your parents) what had been done at school that day and drop off all the new material, such as work sheets etc. Some teachers checked if you had really done all the work while you were sick the day you returned. If you missed an exam/test/quiz it depneded on the teacher when you had to taket it but usually that was the day you returned to school or the day after that.

Posted by: allysophie | October 30, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for the missing commas in the comment above. Something seems to be wrong with my keyboard.

Posted by: allysophie | October 30, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

This article could not have possibly come at a better time, and I feel as if I must comment. I am a senior in High school and have a teacher who feels that being sick is not an excuse and that you can get all your assignments on Blackboard and email them to him on the due date. While I have not been a victim of this draconian policy, I know of people that have. These people experienced extended absences due to influenza and strep throat (in most cases they spent the week in bed, not being able to move), and when they both returned and tried to turn in their assignments (which happened to be culminating papers worth a large percentage of our grade), he refused to accept them, citing his absence policy.

This is 100% not fair to any student, and all of my other teachers are fairly flexible with make up work following a student's illness. I feel that an issue like this needs to be taken up with school administrators to be resolved.

Posted by: highschoolkid | October 30, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for this column! As a parent with an MSEd, married to a middle-school teacher, I have always had issues with the amount of homework that seems to serve no real purpose. Then, when a child is sick, they drop behind and are stressed about make-up work. I agree that there needs to be a policy about addressing absence. Teachers still need to teach my children the material that they missed - that should not be up to parents. The problem here is that I don't see teachers using the work to evaluate where the student needs extra help, but to check off a mark in the grade book. When my 5th grader missed a week due to H1N1, we spent over 10 hours working with him on things he had missed before he returned to school, then additional time on other make-up work. Basically, we became non-consensual home-schoolers and teachers were absolved from educating our child.

Posted by: lydandy | October 30, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

So, if I'm reading this correctly, the gist of this article is that teachers should create yet another set of guidelines - in addition to classroom behavoir, grading policies, rubrics, parent contact, administrative duties, late work policies and differentiated instructional allowances - in order to make the transition back into school easier for the students. On the one hand, this seems to come from a sincere and good place, however, I find several flaws with this plan. The first one being the implication that the assignments as they were originally planned were either not adequate to identify mastery, or that there was a certain amount of busywork involved. I don't mean to be all over-the-top internet commenter, but this is kind of insulting. As a teacher, obviously I see some merit to each of the assignments I give, so why would I knowingly allow some kid to blow it off?

Additionally, to get back to the mastery aspect of the article, of course there is more than one way to skin this cat, but if the teacher's good, why should they have to skin it twice? Or three times, or lord knows how many kids are absent? It takes enough time developing interesting, engaging, differentiated lesson plans and activities, the first time, so where do you think the time comes from to do it a second? Or a third?

Additionally, I can't help but think that this argument sounds just the slightest bit selfish to me. You mention that the best teachers your kids ever had were the ones that told them to do nothing and come back when they were healthy to make up the work they missed. This is great, and it does sound like they had truly caring, understanding teachers, but it also comes across as though they may have earned this moniker because they gave you exactly what you want, and now this is a bit of a temper tantrum in response to somebody refusing to give you that. Coming back from being out sick is a very difficult time for every kid - and teacher or any other professional, for that matter. Unfortunately though, it's also a necessary one. Does the work you miss when you're out sick just magically change and get done without your having to put in some very long days in order to get caught up?

Posted by: toomanyquestions | October 30, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Yes. They should have to make up the work. They should have to make up every bit of it. The only thing that really works in education is high expectations. The rest is fluff.

People are always looking to lower expectations, make excuses, give students a break. You wouldn't want Ford to take that kind of attitude with the car that carries your children, ("Well, he was sick, he doesn't have to finish the welding on that car").

We also have AYSO which gives kids trophies for showing up. Quit worrying about self-esteem. You get self-esteem by completing difficult tasks, not achieving the easy. If you keep lowering the bar, don't be surprised when the kids can't step over it. Make them finish the work. Make them earn their grades. Raise expectations.

Posted by: MVanBuren | October 30, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

My daughter is in fifth grade at Catholic school and it is the school policy that all work be made up, including tests. The most she missed was a week, but her teacher sent home the daily assignments plus the homework everyday. I would teach her the material and help her with the paperwork. No one at our school questions it and several parents are teachers. While getting well is primary, it's hard to miss school without getting too far behind. This middle schoolers have the most work and know that those who go on to Catholic high school is more of the same, so they see it as good practice for that.
It's harder for the kids in public school here in Cali. The school doesn't get their money from the state of CA if the kid isn't in school, so they really pressure kids, especially in high school, to come to school, sick or not. My stepson is currently in public high school and when I called him in sick with a fever, the attendance clerk actually told me to send him to school anyway so the school could get their attendance funds for him. I hung up on her.

Posted by: kodonivan | October 30, 2009 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Having raised two sons and taught for forty-two years, I can see both sides of the coin. The shiniest side of the coin - in my opinion - is the side that requires a child to make up only the vitally important assignments, those which are building blocks for future learning. He should not have to make up "busy work" assignments or "practice" exercises.

Posted by: mctag | October 31, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Respectfully, this sounds like its written by a parent who doesn't want to spend precious time helping a now-well child with his make-up assignments. Yeah - the work has to be mastered. While it might seem silly to make up the homework, how else will the child learn the material needed to pass tests? Without the tests, how do you know if the child has mastered the material needed to successfully grasp increasingly harder material? Do you think each teacher is supposed to provide tutorials to every kid who is out for a week?

Its called personal responsibility. If I'm out of work for a week with the flu, no one is going to do my work for me, and my boss surely won't make it all go away when I return. I've got to find a way to get it done. Kids need to have certain expectations placed upon them as well, to prepare them for the real world. Life isn't all about you, it doesn't stop when you're sick, and you've got to suck it up and be responsible. Too bad the author hasn't figured it out.

Posted by: glh032003 | October 31, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm a high school math teacher, and I've got to say that a LOT of you seem to think that homework is just made up busywork. I'm pretty flexible with kids who are out sick, but generally speaking I expect kids to do the homework they missed because if they don't they will generally not have gotten enough practice to do well on the assessments.

One of the commentators wrote

He should not have to make up "busy work" assignments or "practice" exercises

I cannot speak for all teachers, but I do NOT give busy work, and "practice" is necessary to learn. If you doubt that google juggling, read the instructions, and try juggling. Without practice you aren't going to do very well.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | October 31, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Some of the comments seem to assume that all sick students are just staying home to avoid passing out their colds. (Wish more of them were!) Has it ever occurred to them that some students spend their sick days in the bathroom, or almost delerious with a fever, or in severe pain from a broken bone and really CAN'T keep up with the work? And by the way, how well did the student with the two concussions concentrate and how much did he learn?

Some homework really is busywork (one of my teachers assigned the class to copy the chapter by hand!), and some teachers won't allow students to demonstrate mastery of the work without making it up because they don't want to admit that they are not as essential as they think. A school in my area tried to deny a student valedictorian status, even though she clearly had the proper grades and had kept up with her work while in bed for three months after a serious accident--the school argued that the valedictorian had to have achieved the high GPA while IN SCHOOL. The parents took it to court, and the judge ruled that the school policy only mentioned the grades, not where they were achieved. I suppose the school didn't really intend to suggest that learning in class was harder than learning on your own, but that's the impression given.

Posted by: opinionatedreader | November 4, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

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