Simple Strategy to Decrease Unnecessary Failure—Amnesty Days

September 11, 2017

Simple Strategy to Decrease Unnecessary Failure—Amnesty Days

 Have you ever had a traffic ticket, late credit card payment, or even an arrest record completely expunged and forgotten as if it didn’t happen?  In a sense you were given Amnesty. The definition of amnesty means the forgetting or overlooking of any past offense. The entomology is similar to that of amnesia. A grading strategy that increases learning can also be linked to the term and meaning—Schools often call them—Amnesty Days.

 Grading Forgiveness

Amnesty Days, or periods, are scheduled instructional time devoted to supporting students who are behind or for students to make up missing work (regardless of the reason) without penalty. Granting someone amnesty means obliterating the ramifications of his or her offense.” (Nagel, 2015, p.113)

The implementation of Amnesty Days is a simple, innovative, & effective grading action schools and individual teachers can use to decrease unnecessary student failure. It is linked directly to the SI2TE Model Framework for Unnecessary Failure Prevention ( April 23, 2015).


The rationale of providing students an amnesty day is simple—The more students get behind in both learning and providing evidence of their learning in the form of points or marks, the more likely their chances of failure increases. At the same time, when students do get caught up in their learning—their confidence increases which in turn often provides students a greater incentive to stay caught up & engaged in future learning.

 Teacher Benefits—Breathing Room to Re-Teach:

Amnesty days or periods are a simple action to support middle & high school teachers in making changes in their approaches to grading, feedback, and assessment. They also can provide teachers necessary and often called for breathing room within the curriculum for students and teachers.  Larry Ainsworth describes the need for teachers to plan for a bridge between units. He notes that, “when educators begin implementing a unit of study within their year- long curriculum, they often feel frustration and indecision if and when their students do not demonstrate proficiency….. Should they proceed to the next unit of study even though some of their students are not ready to do so? (2014, P. 21).”

Example of Implementation:

While I was an administrator in my former high school (Ben Davis High School, Indianapolis, Indiana: Grades 10-12, 3,100 students), after our first school wide amnesty day (which was a tremendous success), we decided that a consistent school wide practice of Amnesty Days would be implemented. Each department was expected to schedule two per semester. The first needed to take place between weeks 6-8, and the second between weeks 14-16. This allowed teachers of like courses to best determine, when they should take place based on pacing of units and current level of student uJailnderstanding. This also provided teachers the voice and freedom to determine from common assessment results when the best time would be for them to place their ‘bridge’ days.

 Silver Stage High School, Lyon County Nevada

Patrick Peters, Principal at Silver Stage High School in Lyon County Nevada points out that when his teachers (some reluctantly) implemented Amnesty Days, the results spoke for themself. “We had several teachers attempt an Amnesty Day this past school year and not one spoke negatively about it. They all said what was amazing was how students embraced the chance to get caught up and stayed on
track for most of the rest of the semester. The practice is now part of our culture—and students embrace the support—They are not seeing it as a chance to be lazy.”

 Benefits / Drawbacks

Any adjustment in grading actions calls for school leaders to include teachers in the discussion to examine the benefits and drawbacks before implementing them. This increases the value and importance of teacher-voice–& That’s’ only fair! One drawback some teachers have mentioned is the possibility that some students will wait for an Amnesty Day knowing it’s coming and play the system. That’s possible—maybe likely. (Safe to say many students play the system already). What is also possible is that MORE students will take advantage of getting caught up and stay caught up—which leads to increased learning and engagement.
One final note related to benefits and drawbacks of Amnesty Days—If we don’t examine the impact of current grading / pacing practices like not allowing students (or teachers) a chance to get caught up—That’s not really fair either.

For more information, please check out Effective Grading Practices for Secondary Teachers (Corwin, 2015).

Ainsworth, L. (2014). Common Formative Assessments 2.0. How Teacher Teams Intentionally Align Standards, Instruction, and Assessment.  Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin Press.

Nagel, D. (2015). Effective Grading Practices for Secondary Teachers: Practical Strategies to Reduce Failure, Recover Credits, & Increase Standards Based / Referenced Grading. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin Press.