Should homework count?

Homework will count for only 10 percent of a student’s grade in Los Angeles public schools, a new policy dictates.  The goal is to equalize grading for students with “varying degrees of access to academic support at home.” Some teachers fear students won’t bother to complete assigned work.

Because many teachers grade on effort, rather than performance, the policy will lower grades, predicts Darren, who teaches math in Sacramento.

In my classes, homework counts for 20% of a student’s grade–still too much for LA Unified, but much less than so many others teachers. This means that 80% of a student’s grade comes from tests and quizzes, which are measures of performance.

In my classes, students must demonstrate some level of mastery of the material in order to pass the course; I don’t give courtesy D’s for those who learn nothing but “try” all the homework.

I don’t think teachers should assign homework that requires “academic support” at home.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. You are not nurturing a child or teen if you don’t help them develop the ability to practice her/his academic skills outside the classroom (and without parental hovering/assistance).

  2. I count homework as 10%. I haven’t noticed it making much of a difference in completion rates — obviously, if they do the homework, the assessments are much better. Some stuff — reading guide questions, vocab sheets, that sort of thing — if they don’t need to do it to ace the exam, what’s it to me? The bright kids usually don’t need the questions to figure out what to pay attention to in a text — I swap out something more challenging/interesting for them usually.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Joanne-

    I think the idea is that just getting a place to sit and do homework quietly and without interruption is part of “academic support”. Making homework a large part of the grade means that some students are put at a disadvantage because their home lives don’t really take homework into account; there are different expectations, and maybe parents think the kid should be watching his or her siblings instead of studying.

    I could be wrong of course, but I think that’s a big part of what’s intended by that sentence.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Restricting the instruction, including practice, to what can be done in class restricts the total instruction.
    I once knew a teacher who couldn’t even test for what he assigned to be learned, but not turned in, or he’d get above a 50% failure rate, which was not allowed.
    He dumbed down the instruction to whatever he could get across in class.
    In the unfairness rodeo, this must have some weight.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    What is it with this thing?
    And the planted axiom is that only a lack of academic support at home–a couple of hours undisturbed–results in failure to turn in homework.

  6. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I know that if it was me, and if it was say…. a ninth grade history class and we were only being graded on tests, I wouldn’t have done any homework. Why waste time coloring maps and doing crossword puzzles when you can just pay attention in class, read the book, and ace all the tests? That’s still a 90%, ignoring extra credit.

    I had AMPLE academic support at home— but why do pointless busywork (as opposed to say, a math problem set) if it doesn’t count for the grade? Especially when you could be out riding bikes or hanging around inside and reading a novel?

    This policy will most benefit the kids who hate busy-work but ace tests. I predict that it won’t even last for an entire year, when they realize who it actually helps.

  7. As is always the case, there are two or three different issues.

    In Title I schools, you have a lot of kids whose skills are Basic or higher but are getting Fs because they don’t do homework and their teacher ranks homework as 40-60% of the grade. In these same schools, kids are getting As and Bs despite their terrible skills because they do their homework–this is what Darren is referring to in his post. The teachers came up with the policy to help kids pass, but they failed to realize that lots of kids simply would never do their homework and don’t care if they fail.

    In the context of a high poverty school, where hundreds of kids have poor skills and the school is getting dinged for terrible test scores, it makes no sense at all to aggravate the matter by failing kids who can do the work. You just lose a high percentage of the few high skilled kids they have.

    In suburban, middle or higher income schools (which this policy is clearly NOT aimed at), it will improve life for white boys, who are the most likely to do well on tests while neglect their homework. It will hurt girls and Asians with weak skills, as they are more likely to compensate weak performance by extra credit and homework.

    I only count homework as 10%, and I’m very much in favor of this. I’m tired of teachers confusing effort with ability and rewarding their preferred behavior with As.

  8. In the fall of last year I was placed at a school where there were several kids in our class (third grade) who went home to be the parent. That is, they fed younger siblings if there was any food in the house and put everyone to bed if they could. These kids could not have done homework if they wanted to. Their regular teacher gave them time during lunch and recess to get the homework done, but she only made them do the homework that she felt would directly benefit their learning or practice because of the limited time. My question about that is, if there are assignments that don’t support learning or practicing what’s been learned, why is it being assigned?

    I do agree that assigning some homework, particularly in middle school and high school, is important. Any professional career involves doing work outside of what you’re assigned at your desk, and getting into the habit is a good thing. Seeing that the effort you put in (homework and studying) results in good outcomes on tests is a powerful motivator for going the extra mile. I also see homework as a way for teachers to assess how instruction is going on an ongoing basis so that adjustments can be made.

    But I do see a lot of homework that’s busy work. Worksheets for the heck of it, artsy assignments that don’t reinforce or assess what’s being learned, and miles of practice problems for things that should have been mastered grade levels before. I have no quibble with good, meaningful homework. It would be nice if teacher preparation programs spent a little more time teacher future teachers the hows and whys of assigning good homework. High-achieving kids don’t need busy work and low-achieving kids shouldn’t waste their precious time remaining in school doing busy work.

    To LAUSD: Don’t hamstring teachers by telling them how to grade homework. Instead, teach them to assign good homework.

  9. Peace Corps says:

    Homework only counts 10% in my classes, but I would be upset if my district tried to dictate the weighting of assignments and tests. If it were just guidelines, OK, but grade weighting should ultimately be the teachers choice.

  10. tim-10-ber says:

    Yes…homework should count and 10% is perfect and grading for effort does not help the student. I don’t understand where teachers and administrators got this idea. You are being too soft on the kids…

    Homework needs to reinforce what was learned in the classroom –math, spelling, vocab, reading, history facts. science facts, etc. Don’t give homework for the sake of giving homework…make it meaningful.

    How do actors, musicians, athletes learn their craft? If not by practice what? Why in god’s name is school any different.

    Educators have been too soft on kids. This truly needs to stop. Please…the kids well excel…get them in the right environment, right ability grouping, give them the tools to excel, the right foundation and they will…

    Kids are naturally curious…if kids cannot do homework at home then find the time for them to do it at school…

    Please!

  11. I think my college courses had it right: assign problem sets but allow the student to complete as much or as little of it as he/she deems necessary to pass the exams. Why force a student to complete 50 problems (or suffer a grade penalty for refusing to do so) when 5 would suffice?

    Musicians aren’t forced to spend hours practicing Mary Had a Little Lamb over and over when they are capable of playing Eine Kleine Nachmusik. They demonstrate mastery of the easier piece and then are allowed to move on.

  12. One problem with the homework discussion is that people are not very specific about what they mean by homework. Also, different students and different populations may require different approaches.

    I think homework can be useful at some levels to help students learn but if 75% (very real possibility in some schools) of your students are not going to do it then it is not that useful. If the majority will do the homework, then appropriate homework will be useful. This of course also depends on the expectations of the population being served. You may be able to cover more material with students doing lots of the practice outside of school and if this is expected then great, use lots of homework but if the population expectations are that there should be less homework then give less and cover less material.

    I tend to give homework but I do not count it very much, if at all. “Here are some problems over what we have done in class, make sure you can do these.” I often even give the answers with the assignment. They will be graded when they have to show their knowledge in class. For most, practicing with the homework will probably improve their class performance but not because they got credit for completing the homework.

  13. If I give homework, it’s to reinforce my in-class instruction and provide an opportunity for students to practice what they were supposed to learn. I can’t imagine giving a crossword puzzle or a coloring assignment in high school math.

    Busy-work is a sign of poor teaching.

  14. I’m convinced.

    I’m going to tell every sports team, academic team and the band that practice doesn’t count anymore, and they only need to show up for the games and performances……

  15. North of 49th says:

    My district has had this policy in place for a long time — more than 10 years, anyway. We may not count (for grades) any work except what is done at school. This is not only to level the playing field on “academic support,” but to filter out “work” that is actually done by parents or siblings. When students have a project assigned, they may do *parts* of the work at home — for example, make notes, color maps, get illustrations, but they must do the actual project in both rough and final form at school.

    We have a separate section on the report card to evaluate “learning skills” and homework completion is graded in that section. Homework is regularly assigned, and of course completing it (especially in math) affects the grade the student gets based on in-class work, tests and summative assessments.

    I don’t know if this system is better or worse than the other, but it does cut the rug out from under parents who insist their child is a fabulous reader and budding Pulitzer Prize writer, but whose work in school is of low quality. I’ve had parents bring in samples of work supposedly done by their child at home, complaining that the work they do at school is too easy. I always reply with a smile, Let’s get him to do something like that right now! And of course, the obvious differential between what the child can do independently and what he putatively did at home is immediately apparent.

  16. “I’m going to tell every sports team, academic team and the band that practice doesn’t count anymore, and they only need to show up for the games and performances……”

    If the kid can play the band songs to the expected level and that is all the students wants to do then they don’t need to practice any more. If they want to get better, then practice is required. If a kid can do the math without much practice then great.

  17. Michael E. Lopez says:

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious, team/group practice is a little different than individual homework.

  18. Agree Michael. I think it is a bad analogy. One that I try not to use.

  19. Dennis Fermoyle says:

    I’m not saying this isn’t the case for Darren, but if I had students who were making an honest effort, and they weren’t able to demonstrate any level of mastery, I’d feel like I was doing something wrong.

  20. What we mean by “academic support” might vary.

    Does it mean having a parent who can help solve quadratic equations?

    Or does it mean having a parent who can turn off the TV?

    I assign a lot of homework.

    It levels the playing field for students who need more time to complete assignments.

    But all things considered, is it the right thing to do? I’m not sure.

  21. Bill Leonard says:

    …and the rest of the world continues to eat our lunch in science, engineering and technology generally. I question whether this discussion would even occur in India or China.

  22. “…and the rest of the world continues to eat our lunch in science, engineering and technology generally. I question whether this discussion would even occur in India or China.”

    This is just absurd. Most of the people in China are basically illiterate; I would love for China to attempt to educate its entire populace to the levels that the US tries. Or India.

  23. Maybe, not illiterate. I don’t want to over state the reality, but I’m tired of the assumption that all the Chinese and Indian people are being educated to obscene levels.

  24. Homework is a kind of practice that we give to student for their improvement.
    It is one of the important part of student’s educational improvement!
    I agree with this “but grade weighting should ultimately be the teachers choice.”

  25. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Having read through this discussion, it seems clear that a significant amount of what teachers can do is determined by what parents do. Teachers can give meaningful homework and be fair to all students only if all homes support the doing of homework. And yet in much public debate we speak as if only the quality of the teachers matters. It seems that to mention the equal importance of parents and home life is the third rail of the debate about education.

    How can we solve the problems of educating all our children if we can’t have an honest discussion? Do we really expect schools and teachers to equalize the inequalities in home life? The truth is that a stable home life with two parents and family meals together give children an advantage in school. How are teachers to compensate children who do not have these basics?

    Blaming teachers while ignoring the impact of home life is like the drunk looking for his car keys under the street light, not because that is where he lost them but because it is easier.

  26. Cranberry says:

    10% of the overall grade would be a full grade level. Thus, a student who aces tests and quizzes, but hands in no homework, would only receive a B, not an A. For the students who care about their grade point average, 10% is a significant incentive to complete and hand in homework on time.

    I think it’s a good policy. School systems often institute placement policies which take students’ GPAs into account. With a 10% penalty, a student who has mastered the material, but forgot his homework frequently, isn’t barred from more challenging courses. On the other hand, with only a 10% boost, a student who has no clue about the subject matter, but whose parent (or tutor) completed the homework and stapled it to his forehead, isn’t going to be placed into courses above his level of mastery (i.e., 30% could transform a C-level in-class performance on tests and quizzes into an A, but 10% will only make it a B.)

    It will be interesting to see if such a policy changes the composition of honors classes, resulting in a greater range of SES status (or not.)

  27. Thus, a student who aces tests and quizzes, but hands in no homework, would only receive a B

    The grading software disagrees with you, I find.

    But even if it did, what nasty, revolting moralisty would give a B to a student who didn’t need homework to ace the quizzes?

    Teachers who want to pretend ability doesn’t exist in favor of the hard work they had to do to achieve any sort of competence are just really unpleasant people.

  28. If the student can ace the tests without the practice, why are we forcing him/her to waste valuable time doing tedious, unchallenging “busywork” or face a grade penalty for failing to do so?

  29. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Also, (from personal experience) just because a student isn’t turning in HW doesn’t mean she’s not DOING it.

    In High School, I had several teachers who collected and graded the homework once a quarter. (These were usually math teachers). As an ADHD maelstrom of disorganization, I found keeping the work for a whole grading period to be rather….. difficult.

    I’d do it every night– these teachers assigned valuable problem sets, and we had frequent quizzes and tests and I quickly discovered that if you do the work as you go along, you never actually need to STUDY because you learned the math right the first time…….

    So I was one of the kids who got A’s on tests and quizzes, a C in the class, but a 5 on the Calc BC test. For me, a 10% cap on homework (which would have given me a 90, and probably a 95 since I usually scraped SOMETHING together to turn in) would have been a Godsend.

    But for the kid who was conscientious, neat, and had a B+ in the class and a 2 on the AP Calc exam? It would have been disasterous—and those were the kids who had parents who’d complain……..

  30. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I hear you, DM.

    A 10% cap on homework would have raised my high school GPA probably around .6 on a 4-point scale. I know in one case it would have changed an “F” to a “B+”.

    I was just lazy, though — not disorganized.

  31. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Re: organization — the funny thing is, my teachers claimed that they were doing me a favor, because these “note-book keeping” skills would be TOTALLY NECESSARY when I had a job.

    Except, I have NEVER had a job where I had to save every piece of paper from a 9 week period. In fact, I spent more of my work time tossing stuff than saving it. And what did get saved could be put IMMEDIATELY into a file cabinet where it would stay unmolested until needed.

    And most important day to day stuff is done on the weird device called a “computer” with things like a “hard drive” that you can organize and search.

    So the whole organization segment of the math classes turned out to be a waste. Luckily, they were also good math teachers, and I learned my stuff—but anyone who thinks that grades (rather than test scores) are an accurate reflection of mastery is kind of crazy, IMO.

  32. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Basically, most grades really measure the degree to which that particular student pleased that particular teacher.

  33. Deirdre Mundy says:

    And completing stupid busy work neatly and cheerfully is what pleases many teachers………

  34. ” The goal is to equalize grading for students with “varying degrees of access to academic support at home.”

    all goals should have a built in excuse for failure.

  35. Peace Corps says:

    Nothing pleases this teacher more than having a (hopefully more than one) student ace my test. Unfortunately for me that doesn’t happen very often, and I put bonus questions on my tests. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that next year will be better.

  36. Deirdre Mundy says:

    PC– if it makes you feel better, I think a lot of “Acing Tests” has less to do with the teacher than with the student.

    So, if you get one of the “Acing tests” sort of kids, you’ll have a student who aces tests. If your class is composed of kids who think a C is good enough and plan to goof off all Semester and cram for the final, well….. you can’t really force them to care about learning the material.

    I had a student once who was very bright AND believed that anything less than 100% mastery was the same as failure. She aced every test she took, but because she cared about learning the material–not because of any particularly good teaching–all she really needed was someone to present the material.

    Anyway, I hope you get a test-acer next year— but it really is a drive that comes from within. If a student doesn’t care, he won’t ace tests. And you can’t MAKE him care, Hollywood tropes aside.

  37. Michael E. Lopez says:

    100%: A+
    99%: F

    How cool would that be?

  38. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I actually had a Greek teacher who gave As, B+ and Fs. I got an F from him (My grade was a B- by normal standards.) At the time, I thought he was horribly unfair. Then, to prove I could do it, I retook the class and studied harder and realized he was right. My paltry B- work from the year before would have left me unprepared for the third quarter, and I would have failed anyway.

    By being forced to retake to for mastery, I learned the stuff at an A level, started to see Greek as a joy rather than a chore, and ended up a Classics major–All because James Redfield was realistic enough to point out that an 82% understanding of Greek was not a sufficient understanding.

    If we did more of this in the EARLY grades (sorry, kid, adding right 75% of the time isn’t good enough, you need more practice) maybe we’d teach perseverance and turn out kids who could actually do math and read….

    As the old saying goes, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

  39. Sean Mays says:

    DM: Nice anecdote. I spin a similar story for my HS math students. Imagine there’s a problem with three arithmetic steps. Suppose you’re an A- student and get 90% right on arithmetic opertations. It’s simplistic, but you could argue that the probability of getting this problem right is (.9) to the thrid power, or about 72%. That 90’s not looking so good now.

  40. I haven’t had a 99% or 100% in any of my classes since my first year teaching. I think there’s two philosophies at work. The first is that a class is a group of skills/concepts to master. Master it all and it is 100%. My philosophy is more along the lines of growth — everybody makes progress. Advanced kids get more advanced work; I then modify that work to make it doable for the less able students. I can’t stand skating.

  41. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Lightly– but is it fair for the kid who mastered phonics and the kid who wrote a 50 page thesis on Melville to get the same grade (say a 92%) for the course? After all, when colleges/employers look at the grade, they’ll assume that both kids are at the same level, not that both kids exerted the same effort.

    Same goes for parents. Giving grades based on effort versus mastery smacks of dishonesty, IMO.

  42. I think every child deserves to be intellectually challenged in school. If a kid is getting 100% correct on every test, he/she probably isn’t being challenged enough. A teacher can try to offer differentiation without giving everyone the same grade. An “A” student ought to be able to do more challenging material than a “B” student.

  43. Elizabeth says:

    I have mixed feelings on this issue. On one hand, the “skill” of completing and turning in assignments may teach important lessons on balancing activities and time management – even though I have the computer, I still need to remember and balance workload and due dates. On the other hand, as a parent, I believe that a lot of homework assignments are completed and turned in because parents apply subtle to not so subtle pressure. Maybe the parents need to be instructed to ask the following of their kids: What was assigned today? Did you do it? and then the next day- Did you turn it in? I have talked to many parents who say their kids do the work and then forget to turn it in – way more boys than girls – I have a girl, but DD has forgotten from time to time also.

  44. Elizabeth, a lot of students do their homework but don’t turn it in because they’re afraid it’s not good enough.

    Inexperienced teachers assume the child is lazy when that isn’t the case at all.

    This isn’t a rare occurrence. It happens a lot.

    Too often, the parent and teacher figure out what’s going on after half the year has passed.

  45. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Not good enough?

    FOR WHAT???

    I’m not saying that children and adolescents don’t come up with dumb ass ideas like not turning in their work because they think “it’s not good enough” — Robert Wright is almost certainly correct that this happens all the time. I’ve seen it myself. He’s probably also right that it gets misinterpreted a lot.

    But it’s a dumb, childish (and utterly groundless) fear that can easily be dealt with by asking that simple question.

    Of course, asking questions like that is what “critical thinking” is really all about, and once you start asking yourself what it is for which you are evaluating the worth of your homework, you’re going to start asking yourself why you’re doing your homework in the first place. That might start you wondering what you’re doing listening to the seventh most boring person you’ve ever met stumble his way through the Algebra teacher’s guide.

    There are a lot of people who don’t really want students to have real critical thinking.

    In other words, I think that the basis for Robert’s complaint isn’t necessarily all “inexperience” — some of it is systemic.

  46. Some students have the joy of listening to putative authority figures state claims that they can demonstrate to be false.  Compared to that, boredom is a cakewalk.

  47. Well, in real life, which public school and college is not, many employers look for the following in any prospective hire:

    1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
    2. Ability to follow instructions and/or work independently.
    3. Excellent communication skills (oral and written)
    4. Time Management (Punctuality)
    5. Self Starter/Motivated.
    6. Able to complete assigned tasks.

    I’ve worked jobs where no less than 3 of the above 6 skills were needed, and in most cases all 6 were needed. In the real world, many employers aren’t interested in the intermediate steps to get the end result, they just want the end result done correctly.

    The homework analogy is quite correct.

  48. “I don’t think teachers should assign homework that requires “academic support” at home.”

    I hate it when that happens. I mean, God forbid we expect parents to read to their children or support learning proper language or practicing basic arithmetic. In fact, I think everything from potty training to learning that the Dodgers are backed by Satan should also be taught in schools. Let’s just do away with parental responsibility all together and allow teachers to be called “Mom” and “Dad”. The next time you see a “responsible” parent trying to have their little child compare prices in a supermarket using the veiled excuse of “academic support”, I want to walk up and say “What in the holy hell are you doing to that child!? Raising him/her is MY RESPONSIBILITY!”

    Seriously, this enabled attitude is really disgusting.

  49. DM: which got the more sophisticated education? I see you’re a grade grubber, too.

  50. Cranberry says:

    @Cal, But even if it did, what nasty, revolting moralisty would give a B to a student who didn’t need homework to ace the quizzes?

    One child had a middle school math class for which the grading rubric assigned 30% of the grade to the student’s performance on tests and quizzes.

    I think those creating the rubric intended to force compliance with classroom expectations. What happened? Well, many parents spent a great deal of time “doing” math homework with their children. The parents also hired tutors.

  51. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Lightly– Not a grade grubber, just some one who believes in “equal pay for equal work.”

    Since employers can’t give IQ tests, all they see is the grade and course title. It SHOULD be possible for them to look at the transcripts for 2 students in the same class and be able to tell who is the better writer, for instance.

    If you give an ‘A’ to two students of vastly different achievement levels, you essentially make grades worthless.

    Back when I was in HS, they solved this problem by having many levels of English. The lowest was called something like “Practical Reading Strategies” and they went all the way up to AP. Students in each class weren’t of EQUAL ability, but they were close enough that the course expectations matched their grade level.

    If you want to let some kids read Horton and others read Melville, you need some way of noting their accomplishments on records for college and employers. Grades SHOULD be a handy shorthand.

    Also, grading for ‘effort’ instead of achievement can lead to students slacking off and scamming the teacher. (For instance, in Jr. High, the “Bring Up a Grade Roll” got a rollerskating pizza party. Honor roll got….certificates. So, a bunch of us budding economists decided the answer was to get B’s the first grading period, A’s the second, and A’s on the exam. Voila! A Final grade that our parents wouldn’t harangue us about, AND a roller skating pizza party! Giving incentives based on fuzzy measures like ‘improvement’ incentivizes lazy behavior. And, no matter what you think, you don’t have some mystical ability to search a kid’s soul and determine his capabilities. You’re just getting scammed.)