As my school ends its current year and begins a new one, a major topic of discussion has been grading. We have been tasked with creating departmental/PLT-wide grading systems. This way students – no matter what team – will be assessed the same way in any given subject across the school. While this makes sense in theory, it has generated a lot of interesting discussions regarding best grading practices. Many questions have been raised such as:
- What is the most accurate way to assess and grade students?
- Should homework count? (focal point of this blog post)
- Do we accept late work?
- Should we allow students to re-test?
These questions and a handful of others have been discussed over and over again. While the conversations are great and need to be had, we all know that teachers — myself included — are stubborn and grade sits at the philosophical core of who we are as teachers. We all think we assess our students in the most fair manner, but do we really. A co-worker of mine (@mrscienceteach) recently blogged about his thoughts regarding grades on his blog, Scripted Spontaneity, and at least least two other times…one and two (I told you it was a hot topic at our school lately). He and I both share a similar grading philosophy. In fact I would go as far to say that he helped define my own grading philosophy.
Currently, I do not grade homework (nor do I rarely assign it for that matter) and if I do, my homework is almost always something I have asked my students to do in preparation for class the next day. And even then…I don’t grade it.
I view homework (in any content-area) as a tool to practice what was just learned in class and a part of the student’s learning process. Just as it would be unfair to release a musician’s first attempt at a song, it would be unfair to assess a student’s knowledge of a particular subject based on their completion of one homework assignment. Many teachers do it and will continue to do it, but I truly believe that homework is for practice and should not factor into a student’s final grade. We do not define championships by watching the Dallas Mavericks practice. We do not define success by looking through Bill Gate’s trash can. We should not assess our students mastery by looking at 20 random assignments throughout the year. Grading should be a bigger picture.
What type of message does it send to our students to say, “Go home and practice this material. Yes, you just learned it in 45 minutes and you may or may not understand. Complete #1 – 22 on page 224 for homework. This will be graded even though you had questions that I couldn’t answer due to time constraints. I will be collecting and this will count towards a homework grade. Yes I already said I know you have questions. Just give it your best shot and I’ll grade it anyway. Absolutely no excuses and I do not accept late work. Forget after school activities, all of your other subjects, or even dinner.”
Think about this:
Most teachers grade homework for a fraction (10% – 15%) of a student’s overall grade. Is it fair to give a student a B in a class who has routinely aced every test you have given this year? Or maybe a student has received a C on every test, but since they did their homework, they got an A or B for the year?
Do either of the above scenarios accurately portray how much either student understood about the particular subject matter? More than likely not.
I’m not saying, “DO NOT GIVE HOMEWORK.” Instead, try and find a way to assess a student’s understanding other than assigning 20 problems or reading a passage and answering a few questions. Homework is essential for math reinforcement (and many other subjects), but we, as teachers, can create better ways to hold our students accountable for doing homework other than assigning a grade. It may require more work, but to be fair to our students, it’s necessary if we want to assess what our students truly know.