Homework continues to be a controversial topic. The debate over homework is an old one, with attitudes shifting throughout the debate over the years. Proponents and opponents make cases to support their views on the necessity and importance of homework in the development of the student and the construction of knowledge. Good and Brophy (2003) indicate that many view homework as, “An important extension of in-school opportunities to learn”.
While some proponents of homework believe in its purpose, a question still persists about the role of homework in determining the student’s grade. Should homework be assigned and graded on a regular basis, or should it be viewed as an educational means to an end? As a means to an end, should one centralized school or district policy govern homework, or should some flexibility exist?
Education consultant Ken O’Connor (1999) suggests eight guidelines for successful assessment, which includes a directive to not mark every single assignment for grades, but rather take a sampling of student efforts in order to assess how much they have learned. His approach pushes for a more standards based approach in determining grades, combining formative assessment to track students’ grasp of lesson concepts as they learn, enabling adjustment of teaching practice on-the-fly, and summative assessment in the form of a test or quiz, which measures the level of student knowledge and understanding after the learning process. This is also a valuable tool for the teacher, as they may be better able to gauge the efficacy of their lessons and unit. In a study conducted by Hill, Spencer, Alston and Fitzgerald (1986), homework was positively linked to student achievement. They indicate that homework is an inexpensive method of improving student academic preparation without increasing staff or modifying curriculum.
“So, as the pressure to improve test scores continues to increase, so does the emphasis on homework”. 142 school systems in North Carolina were contacted. Of the initial 142 schools, 96 responded, and were sent three-part questionnaires seeking information about the existence, scope, development and evaluation of homework policies in their schools. The researchers cite several general conclusions based on their findings, including the importance, and apparent lack, of homework policies in existence. Despite the pervasive nature of homework in every participating school, only 50% of the schools indicated the existence of a written homework policy. Amongst the policies reported by the other half of the participating schools, most of the policies specified the type or quality of homework to be assigned, and allowed some flexibility in the assignment and evaluation of homework.
The authors indicated: Particularly encouraging signs were that a variety of types of homework were suggested, and the focus of homework assignment was toward meaningful, creative, and high-level thinking endeavors… and away from tedious busy work and drill. (Hill, Spencer, et. al, 1986, p. 68) Homework is seen as a valuable resource for teaching, allowing students to practice, and in doing so, learn the unit material. This study documented the importance of flexibility in the assignment and evaluation of quality homework assignments, but also the alarming lack of a written homework policy in 50% of the participating schools.
Homework is a form of formative assessment, along with draft work, ungraded quizzes and other exercises used with the intent of guiding and instructing the student to promote higher-level cognitive connections. Placing little or no emphasis on grades on those types of exercises and activities allows for focus on the mastery goal, and keeps feedback constructive. “Although teachers may record the results of formative assessments, we shouldn’t factor these results into summative evaluation and grading” (McTighe & O’Connor, 2005)
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