Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday's Five: Reasons You Shouldn't Grade Homework

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For a few years I've been a member of our district's Assessment Committee, where we try and develop assessment policy and guidelines for teachers.  We've tried to come up with policies and guidelines that both lead to assessments in the classroom that guide the teaching of classroom teachers towards areas of need for students and standardize grading practices across the district.  In our meetings and other discussions on assessment I've been a part of there is no more debated topic than homework.

Many argue that completion of homework should be graded because of the need for students to be responsible and accountable.  They often claim that responsibility is a skill that will be needed in the workplace, and that not counting homework completion as a part of students' grades would be akin to telling them that responsibility isn't important.

Anyone who has read a few of my blog posts knows how passionate I feel about the need to prepare our students for the world they will encounter when they pass from our schools.  I am in complete agreement that we need to foster a sense of responsibility in our students.  I don't agree, however, that grading homework is an effective way to do it.

In today's post, I'm going to list five reasons that homework completion should not be graded.  I'd love to hear your thoughts afterward, whether you agree or disagree, so please leave a comment.  Intelligent discussion and debate are tools for progress.

  1. A homework grade punishes those who need the most support. - We know that a great many of our students face difficulties at home.  Those difficulties often make homework a low priority.  Put yourself in the place of one of your students that you know has a rough time at home.  Imagine how much you'd care about getting your homework done, or even if you'd be able to get that work completed, when returning to that home situation from school.  Think about how much parental support you'd get.  Now imagine that you were being punished in your grades because you didn't get the work done.  These students need us to support them, not punish them.
  2. A homework grade doesn't show what the student has learned. - If a student receives a 90%, shouldn't that mean that the student learned 90% of what they were supposed to in that course?  When you begin to count homework completion as part of that grade it becomes impossible for parents, students, colleges, or anyone else to determine what a student's grade means.  A child who passed all of his/her tests and quizzes can still fail the course if they didn't do their homework, and a student who couldn't pass any test or quiz can can pass the course if they did the homework.  That doesn't make any sense, and leads to grades becoming totally meaningless.
  3. Grading homework doesn't teach responsibility. - I've yet to encounter a student who was lacking responsibility and started becoming responsible because their homework was going to be graded.  Ask most high school teachers, and they'll tell you that the majority of students aren't motivated by grades, anyway.  The students who are responsible already are going to do their homework, and those that aren't are not.  Chances are, grading it won't make a bit of difference.  
  4. If you want students to care about homework (and schoolwork for that matter), make it relevant. - This is really the heart of the problem, isn't it?  Students don't care about school because school doesn't matter to them.  Getting a good grade isn't a guarantee of future success nearly as much as it used to be, and the lack of frontal lobe formation in teenagers prevents them from understanding the long term consequences of poor grades.  If you want students to do work, you need to get them emotionally invested in what they are doing.  Maybe this means that they are going to use what they are learning in your class to solve a problem in the community, help their neighbors, follow their passion, or to create something they'd be excited to show off to their friends.  If they are working toward something they are passionate about, they will be more likely to invest their time on it.  
  5. There's rarely an educational reason for every student in your class to complete the same homework assignment.  - If 40% of your students have mastered a concept, does it really make sense to give an assignment to the whole class and then grade whether they have completed the assignment?  If one of the students who mastered the concept doesn't complete the assignment, is it really fair or logical to reduce their grade because they (rightfully) believed that the assignment was a waste of their time.  If you've ever complained about your boss making you do tasks that you know to be useless and a waste of time, you know how those students feel.  
Now it's your turn.  What's your opinion on grading homework?  Do you agree with my reasoning for discontinuing the practice of homework grading, or have I missed something?  What's your school's policy when it comes to homework?  We'd love to hear as many different opinions as we can, so please pass the post on to other educators, parents, students, or anyone who may have strong feelings on the topic by sharing on Plurk, Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus.