‘A’ on tests, ‘F’ for homework

On Teacher Voices, Ellen asks about homework and grades:

You have a student who does/turns in NONE of the homework. However, s/he receives an A on every test and/or project assigned. What grade to you assign, and why?

Colleagues respond.

About Joanne


  1. Cardinal Fang says:

    What nobody says in that post, but what I think is most important, is to state clearly, in writing, at the beginning of the year, what the policy is. The teacher shouldn’t be figuring out what to do about this situation at the end of the year.

    That said, I’d be looking for mastery, not slavish devotion to form. If I were teaching math, I might make homework optional and have frequent quizzes. For most other subjects, though, I’d make homework required because the tests wouldn’t fully demonstrate mastery. For English and history, I’d assign lots of writing, and for science, I’d expect lab writeups.

  2. This is a copy of the comment I left on the article you linked to.

    “I teach in an urban school. Very few kids ever turn in homework. Homework is 5% of their grade. Tests & quizzes are the bulk of the grade. There are many students who don’t do the homework, but still get a high enough grade to be in the A range. Those who do it get extra practice and a boost in their grade. Those who don’t – well, my energy is better spent helping them out in class than banging my head up against the wall about homework (which pretty much no kid in the district does anyway.)”

    We’ve got enough problems with gangs and brawls to worry about homework, especially when the kids show me in class every day that they are learning.

  3. Miller Smith says:

    I have seen thiks very issue raised time and again. The result is that the public schools must follow the “equal protection” clause and apply the published standards at the beginning of the year to all students.

    In my system the science teachers are required to grade students 60% on tests, 20% on classwork, and 20% on homework. We are not allowed to deviate. A student who aces every test but does not homework or classwork gets a D. A student who does all class and homework but fails every test with a 50% scores (half of the 60% above) gets a C.

    No extra credit is allowed.

    Next year we are using the SchoolMax program system-wide to combat teachers changing things themsleves in thier classrooms. We enter the grades as prompted in the categories and SchoolMax calculated the grade. We must keep a protfolio so an accounting can be made to see if the graded item exists and comparisons can be made between teachers and even kids in the same class.

    All of this is due to claims of grade racism.

  4. Wow, that’s a pretty stringent grade policy Miller. And, what precisely were the charges of “grade racism”? I’m curious.

    In my school, teachers can set their own policies, but they have to be clearly defined at the beginning. For me, tests, quizzes, projects and presentations are a combined 60% of a student’s grade, while class and homework are 40%. On just about all of the latter, I initially grade the assignments and then give them back to students to make any necessary corrections (after discussing problem areas, errors and general misunderstandings). It’s a lot of work for me, but it’s worked well.

    As for Joanne’s initial point, I’d say this: Teachers also teach [personal] responsibility. Would it be acceptable, say, if an office manager told an employee that, along with completing the job (whatever said job is), he needs everything documented — and the employee refused the documentation stating “Hey, I got the job done, isn’t that what counts?”

  5. ucladavid says:

    I teach average 7th grade History classes. My grades are based on accumulated points like 15 points for this quiz, 40 points for this project, 7 points for that, etc. If a student doesn’t turn in a homework assignment on time, she has one day to make it up (excluding legit absences) for half-credit. If she still doesn’t do it, no credit. On average, I get back about 60-80% of most homework assignments, which is about average for an average class in the school.

    My point of homework assignments for students do to something where they don’t need the teacher’s help in doing it, for the students to show that they understand the material in a different way, and something where it doesn’t or can’t need to be done during classtime. Examples would be writing sentences so they understood what the word means or they write a story in the point of view of some historical figure.

    My tests relect the basic knowledge of the material. The homework and projects in my class take that basic knowledge and for the students to show that they can understand it in a deeper level. Thus, if someone aces the projects and tests, but doesn’t do the homework, that means she did not get a complete understanding of the material in a deeper level.

  6. Teaching is hard and I put in long hours.

    My grading system isn’t labor intensive and it also helps with disclipline.

    I base my grades on favoritism.

    It isn’t professional, but it works for me.

  7. greifer says:

    If the question is “how should a teacher fashion a policy, weighing tests vs. homework vs other participation” the answer is one weighs it so that you approve of the scores given if a student gets As in one section and Fs in the rest.

    I have no problem passing a student who scores As on every test and turns in no homework. I think a student smart enough to ace tests has properly handled his time if he can do so without doing his homework, so for that, he should pass, but I think that he does not deserve an A because he hasn’t fulfilled the discipline required to show outstanding performance.

    I write tests where basic understanding gets you a B-, deep understanding gets you an A,better than basic is a B, confused understanding of some but not all principles gets you a C.

    So, a straight scale point system where tests total 70% of the score and homework 30% is reasonable in my opinion.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    If homework does not improve mastery, it is a waste of time for all concerned.
    Presuming that the homework in question was not a waste of time, how could the no-homework kid get an A while the homework-doers, some of whom must be equally bright, not get whatever’s beyond A? Or at least a strong A?
    Two issues: You can’t flunk 70% of your class, so if you flunk those who don’t turn in homework, and that’s 60%, you may be fired most expeditiously in some systems.
    If homework improves mastery, those not doing it won’t be able to do well on tests. Unless those who don’t do homework don’t do well on the tests and that amounts to a forbidden number of flunkees.
    Perhaps the tests–as with some ex-teacher acquaintances of mine–are dumbed down to the extent that only what happens in class is necessary to pass, and pass well. In which case, homework is a waste of time.
    Then there’s the possibility of cheating.

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    Homework doesn’t improve mastery if the subject was already mastered. Not every student is the same. In a math class, some bright students might grasp the concepts instantly, whereas most students would need to practice.

    I don’t see why the bright students should be forced to do what is, for them, busywork. If they’re able to demonstrate convincingly that they know the subject, that should be enough to get an A.

  10. Homework is a joke. It doesn’t improve mastery, and it creates a huge group of students who don’t, in fact, know the subject but have religiously done all their homework.

    There’s already 60% of the proof out there: Saul Geiser did a study demonstrating that there’s no correlation between taking an AP class and knowledge. There is, however, strong correlation between actual AP test scores and demonstrated knowledge.

    All that’s left is to do a study correlating AP teacher’s grades to actual test scores on the AP test. You will find a huge number of students getting As in the class and failing the test, and a substantial number of students getting 4s and 5s on the test and Bs and Cs in the class.

    Why? Homework is what the teachers grade on, not demonstrated knowledge.

    Teachers are themselves a largely plodding group who had to work hard for any academic success they achieved. They actively dislike kids who master material easily and don’t work hard. While teaching rubrics are not supposed to reward effort, most teacher surveys reveal that they always reward effort first.

  11. Cardinal Fang says:

    I don’t agree with Cal that homework is always a joke. However I do agree that colleges should be suspicious of students who take AP courses, but then don’t take the corresponding AP test. If a student got an A in the course, she should have no trouble getting at least a 3 (passing) on the test, unless there’s something wrong with the course.

  12. It’s not just that. What about the student that gets an A in the class and fails the test–or gets a 3? And what about the students who get Bs and Cs, but get 4s and 5s? This happens all the time in suburban high schools.

    The AP should require a grading system that links the grades to the test. If you don’t take the test, you can’t get higher than a C. If you take the test, you can’t get higher than a C if you fail. A 3 gets a B, and a 4 or a 5 gets an A. All the courses are weighted.

    Teachers should not be allowed to skew the results. And yet this happens regularly, corrupting the grades between students and between schools.

    As for homework being a joke, I will clarify–it is absolutely wrong to include homework as an element of the grade. That’s the joke. If the student masters the material, then the homework doesn’t matter.

    And to forestall the inevitable objection: projects and other long-term work does not count as homework. That said, I think students should be allowed school time to do this work precisely because it isn’t “homework”.

  13. It doesn’t matter. They are probably smart enough to pass the exit exam and go to the next grade.

  14. It matters because colleges use grades. They use grades even more than they used to, as grades are what allow schools like the UC system to get around affirmative action–by saying that grades are if anything more important than test scores, the schools have cover to give consideration to kids with low test scores and high grades. But once they do it for one group, they have to do it for all groups.

    (This, far more than test scores, is why Asian kids do so well in college admissions post-209. They get in trouble if they don’t get As. It’s not that their homework gives them better scores–they’d get the same scores regardless.)

    So you have kids with outstanding test scores in both admissions and AP tests and a B+ average who, without an alumni consideration, are outside the range of the very highest tier of schools. At the same time you have average kids with 4.5 GPAs and middling admissions test scores and a few threes on an AP. It’s way out of whack.

    The wholly incompetent and inaccurate teacher grading system has always been with us, but the emphasis on grades is new. The combination is unfair, but more to the point, it’s deceitful. Teachers need to be held to more accountability in grading. But for starters, they shouldn’t be allowed to grade on homework performance. It’s irrelevant.