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Ungrading Homework

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In another example of new thinking on homework, the school board in Middletown, Ohio, has proposed a new homework policy that would make grading homework a thing of the past. Under the policy, which board members say comes in response to unequal parent contributions to homework, grades would be replaced by descriptive feedback and student critiques, with in-class projects and quizzes used to evaluate student understanding. "The removal of the grade is to make sure that we're grading the student for their work, not the work of the parents or failures of the parents," said board member Marcia Andrews. Advocates also say that low grades on homework can be discouraging for some students. The proposal, however, has sparked criticism from some parents, who say it reflects lowered expectations for students and would reduce incentives for completing homework. In a satirical letter to the Middletown Journal, one resident questioned (among other things) why schools should give grades to students at all.

MiddletownUSA.com has posted a video of the school board meeting where the homework policy was proposed. The policy will be decided on in late June.


10 Comments

Its true that in many cases student homework turned in are actually completed by someone other than the student. This is especially true for assignments requiring the student to apply higher level thinking to their essays.

It's interesting to see what kind of effect this policy will have on student learning on the whole. If it turns out to have a positive effect then it cannot hurt to try it.

While it is true that some work completed outside class is done by someone other than the student, should we remove the opportunity for students who do their own work to profit from the experience? I'm afraid we believe too strongly that we can "make" each student learn if we just set up the right scenario. Instead, we would penalize students who rightly make use of the extra time available for completing an assignment outside of class. My oldest daughter graduated from college with a perfect 4.0. She doesn't test out to be genius material, but she works harder than most students. Should we take away the opportunities for her (or other committed but "challenged-by-time" students)to find success through hard work outside of class? Rather than try to make sure students are doing their own work by making them do it all in class, shouldn't we be teaching them the importance of choosing to do their own work? As a teacher, I often stress to my students that allowing someone to do their work for them will never benefit them in the end. After all, education is NOT really about grades; it's about learning for life. If we're not getting that point across (or if we don't even believe that is the point), we might as well give up teaching. My responsibility is to teach so that students can learn, but it's the student's responsibility to choose learning. Not all will, but that doesn't mean we should remove the opportunity.

In my opinion, the most important homework at all levels is reading personally interesting material. A parent may help with this, but it is unlikely that any parent will do it for his/her child. (Although a parent's influence may be necessary for the child to actually complete this work.)

If a minimum point system is used for the completion of the homework assignment and not the accuracy the student will most likely make the attempts themselves. It is when we only give credit for accurate solutions on homework that the students become desperate. I teach math. I give 20 points for the completion of the assignment. That includes showing appropriate work. The homework is reviewed in class. Students grade their papers and use them to prepare for the quiz and test. Grades are weighted so the homework is not the measurement of the student's achievement. Homework is exactly that! Work to be done at home for practice. We all remember the projects we completed the night before they were due for our children when they were in elementary school. Parents helping or doing the work is not a new trend if it means pass or fail for their child.

The school where I taught this year had a policy of not giving grades to homework. The reason the principal gave was not that parents were doing the homework, but that we could not punish students for poor parenting. Many students did not have a parent who was at home at any time during the time they got out of school and went to bed. It was a very low socio-economic area and many children were raising themselves. Instead, we would reward those who did turn it in by using various methods. On the other hand, you would have parents who complained because we did not give enough homework. It is a difficult dilema.

Honestly, grading in its present form, does not reflect learning. It doesn't show what learning has occured or even what skills have been mastered - so not grading homework doesn't really change "homework". However, the underlining message, it would appear, is the same message that many districts are sending: lower your expectations for the work students should be doing. Decrease or eliminate the opportunities for students to practice, read, think,... in an environment outside of school.

If we aren't giving our students the opportunities to do school work outside of the classroom, what are we setting them up for? Is it too much to ask that a student read at home? Is it too much to ask a student to practice spelling or vocabulary or math problems...?

As a high school teacher, it has been my experience that students who had homework in elementary and middle school were better prepared for the reading and studying demands for high school. But, as homework expectations have been lowered, my students are more and more unprepared for even the smallest amount of reading a chapter for class discussion.

If I don't give my students the opportunities to assess what work they should do now and what work they can do at "home" how will they be able to do that when they are "working"? Many of us have "homework", it may not be in the sense that we have to do it at "home", although more companies are setting their employees up with laptops and wireless networks so they can do work at home. I had many opportunities in my "school" life to assess what I needed to do immediately in class with my teacher there, what I could stay after and get more help with, what I could do at home, and what I could come in early for and finish up. If we keep taking those opportunities away, how are we preparing our students for "real life" homework?

I view homework as a practice reinforcement of what they were working on in school. I welcome parent's helping their child for two reasons: one being that they know what their child is learning and secondly, the child hears it another way that my make more sense. We check our homework together in class and the students receive homework points if the assignment is completed and corrections are made in another color. This is usually followed up by a short in class quiz.

I agree with AC. When I was in high school math classes, I had a teacher who would quickly walk around the room each morning and look to see if our homework was completed. We got a check if it was completed or an X if it was not. The totality of how much homework we completed was a percentage of our overall grade but the accuracy was something for us to monitor on our own after the problems were reviewed in class. While I was normally a good student, Math was a more challenging subject for me and seeing where I needed improvement gave me the guidance to ask the right questions but not having to stress about my practice work being graded and "counted" made me more confident to go to class each day and participate.

Just out of curiousity was this policy ever past. A school in my district is currently going through a similiar situation. If it past, how is it going?
Thanks-

jbigwarf,

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. I contacted the reporter who originally wrote about this for the Middletown Journal in Ohio, Megan Gildow. Although it's over 2 years later, she remembered what happened with this proposed change to the district's homework policy. Here's her response:

"The policy was not approved. They 're-shelved it' for further consideration and assured the public it was not the last they had seen of it. But it was in fact the last we saw or heard of it and then they booted the superintendent who championed it about a year later."

Interesting development.

Thanks for visiting, and keep the comments and questions coming.

Comments are now closed for this post.

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  • Stacey Hollenbeck: jbigwarf, Sorry it's taken me so long to get back read more
  • jbigwarf: Just out of curiousity was this policy ever past. A read more
  • DM: I agree with AC. When I was in high school read more
  • Kathy Campbell: I view homework as a practice reinforcement of what they read more
  • Suzanne Forman: Honestly, grading in its present form, does not reflect learning. read more

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