I'm back off a five-day trip attending my fiancée's graduation in Los Angeles. I'm back, wishing I had more May, and wondering what you do here:
A student wanders dazed into your class on [x, where x is some second semester date] with a failing grade, wondering if passing is even possible.
Under typical assessment — comprehensive, tight-fisted, chapter-based stuff — if [x] is anything later than Cinco de Mayo, the student is screwed. And so are you. Because if you tell that student no, sorry, friend, we'll see you next year, that kid has no other purpose in your class except self-amusement, which will almost certainly conflict with your purpose. Enjoy the seventh circle of classroom management hell.
But if my career spun a wacky, cinematic 180° and I found myself teaching (eg.) English comp, I'd build my assessment strategy around three unshakable convictions, convictions which conventional assessment fails at most turns, convictions which aren't exclusive to mathematics.
- It doesn't matter when you learn it, so long as you learn it. A student’s grade should reflect her current understanding of the course, not last month’s, not her understanding when it was convenient for me to assess her. Keep a loose grip on your students' grades.
- My assessment policy needs to direct my remediation of your skills. My comprehensive test on "Twelfth Night" won't do much for us two months down the road when you come in looking to patch yourself up. Assign separate scores to "Twelfth Night Themes," "Twelfth Night Vocabulary," and "Twelfth Night [whatever else it is you English teachers do]," scores which can be targeted and remediated individually.
- My assessment policy needs to incentivize your own remediation. How many students will put in the effort to remediate their skills if the reward isn't tangible and immediate? Traditionally, what do you have? The promise that your studying here at lunch is really gonna pay off on the next test? Which is in three weeks. The student's like, awesome, glad I came in.
I can't fully answer the question "how does this work in [x, where x is some course which isn't math]?" but I promise you that if I was drafted into the service of [x], I'd fight with as much creativity as I could muster to keep those principles intact.