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Homework: An Education Debate

Feb 28, 2011 | By Harvey Craft

Graded homework bookHomework causes much concern in education. Grading homework is not necessary because it is a formative assessment. It is for practicing and studying, not grading.

Because missing homework generates zeroes, student grades can be severely reduced when they don't do homework. In one corner there are those who argue that homework is an essential part of instruction - it builds responsibility, improves study skills, etc. In the other corner, with equal vitality, are those who want to ban homework - it creates extra work for teachers and interferes with family plans. Homework has polarized educators, and there is a broad spectrum of opinions between the poles.

Homework is One of Education's Major Instructional Concerns

Individually posted teacher policies present a myriad of procedures to encourage students to turn in the assigned work. School and district sites sometimes place stern warnings for students to do their homework or face loss of privileges and other discipline.

Homework is, to say the least, problematic. There are many popular Internet teacher sites where teachers can exchange ideas across the nation. A perusal of these sites indicates that homework is of great concern to teachers. Teacher policies about whether or not to grade homework, how much it should count, and other matters create unnecessary worries.. Homework is a formative assessment. That single fact can put an end to the homework quandary.

How Homework Became a Controversial Teaching Method

Young boy doing his homework

Part of the divide has resulted from the fact that homework as an instructional tool has developed in an uncontrolled manner with few rules governing its application and correct role. There is no one thing called "homework", and in many cases isn't even done at home, but at the end of class. Another problem is the myth that everything that students do must be graded. Arbitrary "solutions" have been initiated by many schools and districts.

Chief among them are decisions to allow no grade lower than fifty - or some other arbitrary level to be recorded. This is a way to maintain student motivation and respond to the problems created by zeros, but it is simply a convenient invention.

The practice has become common across the nation. Humble, Texas includes the policy in its student handbook, as does St. Simon Stock School In Bronx, NY. Monroe Middle School in Monroe, NC forbids the "recording or averaging of any grade lower than 60". Variations of these policies are frequently posted on the Internet. These policies have troubled teachers who see it as grade manipulation, and it is, but with good intentions. School policies serve better when they are based on a logical process.

A New Understanding of Assessment is the Solution

Homework written on chalkboardAn analysis of the problem reveals a possible real solution. First, teachers need to understand that homework tends to fall under the category of formative assessment - those things teachers do while students are learning a new topic or set of standards. Students must be retrained to believe that work has value even when it is not graded. Schools have become institutions that place too much emphasis on grades. Schools must dedicate themselves to emphasize learning.

Teachers need to convince students - starting with students' first-ever homework assignments - that homework addresses what they will need to know when they are assessed with quizzes and tests - i.e. summative assessments. It gives them an opportunity to study these things and review them the next day in class and make correction as needed. Teachers will quickly check off whether or not the student has done the homework in order to let parents know if students are doing homework. That's it! No grading, no arbitrary methods of turning checks into grades, and no zeros.

Students should be encouraged to use homework as part of the material to study for assessments. Next a summative assessment is given. Some of the assessment should sample knowledge gained from homework. When the assessment is scored, the students who were serious about using homework as an opportunity to study will score better than those who didn't, provided the homework assignments and the assessments were in agreement. In this way, what was learned from homework is finally graded.

The same factors that might have caused poor homework grades are still in effect for better or worse but significant positive changes will result:

  • Those horrible zeros have been eliminated.
  • Homework is now about learning instead of chasing grades.
  • Homework is for practice and diagnosis
  • Fewer papers to grade.
  • No need for special homework grading methods.
  • The responsibility issue is still intact.
  • The teacher can still see the relationship between homework and test grades.
  • Bribes and reward systems are no longer needed.
  • Copying homework is now no worse than copying notes.
  • Student evaluation stresses summative assessment; evaluation "pollution" is reduced
  • Less stress for all.

Homework has lingered too long in the shadows. The time has come to bring it into the light of proper analysis and assign it a role that promotes learning. Homework must be reborn as a formative assessment allowing students to be evaluated with appropriate summative assessments. Homework is for practice and diagnosis, not grades.

About the author:
Harvey Craft
 is a retired educator and former principal, with extensive experience in teaching grades six through to twelve. He is NBPTS certified in Adolescent Science and now spends his time in educational research, consulting, and freelance writing.
Click here to contact or read more articles by Harvey Craft.

Tags : homework, education, concern, controversy, schools, teaching, assessment, grading

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