Educators scold me for defending homework grading


“Why would anyone assume that all teenagers will ever be motivated to do anything unless they get a grade for it?” said Joan Arnold, a science and math teacher. Skills-based learning coordinator Emily Rinkema said “we cannot guarantee that assignments accurately reflect” what students are learning, so “we cannot use them to make accurate decisions about ‘education”.

Arlington Public Schools’ decision against traditional homework appears to have the support of the superintendent and some school board members. They would remove penalties for missed assignments and ban grading of so-called formative work, which generally means daily assignments like homework. Faculty only graded summative assessments, mostly a fancy word for tests.

Opposition to the emphasis on homework goes back a long way. It’s part of a movement now called standards-based scoring or standards-based education that started in the 1980s, around the same time I became an education writer.

I’m not opposed to what these thoughtful educators are saying yet, but I need to know more. The emails I received reinforce my impression that the homework restructuring movement is growing and was heavily influenced by well-known teacher and administrator Joe Feldman’s 2019 book, “Grading for Equity: What It Is , Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms.

There is not yet much control group research to support either side of the argument. Teachers for and against traditional homework grading base their opinions primarily on their personal experiences in the classroom. They should keep doing what works for them.

Arlington’s planned homework reorganization would affect all schools. I’m mostly concerned about the effect this will have on just one of them, Wakefield High. I have followed the progress of this school for 25 years. It has some of the most experienced and successful teachers I have ever encountered.

Several teachers at Wakefield High School believe this would threaten the success they have had in improving student achievement, especially those from low-income families. They said in a letter to district leaders “it is highly likely that students who do not complete or do a poor job with the formative assessments will also fail the summative assessments…For the record, experience Spring 2020 virtual learning during the pandemic taught most of us that students don’t, won’t complete their work if not for a grade.

Several of the standards-based grading advocates told me they would be happy to show teachers like those at Wakefield how to do their homework differently. I think they would benefit from first seeing what the Wakefield teachers have accomplished with their traditional approach.

Wakefield is the subject of a recent University of Virginia study by Beverly A. Knupp Rudolph detailing his success in challenging every student. Half of Wakefield’s students come from low-income families, yet they are among the top 2% of American high schools measured by participation in the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate college-level exams. In 2018, 56% of its senior graduates passed at least one AP final exam, nearly three times the national average.

A small but growing number of high schools like Wakefield are using traditional homework and grading systems, along with more learning time and encouragement, to lift poor students to new levels of achievement. They believe that motivating their students to do the work is important and is reinforced by homework. But Arlington is moving forward with standards-based grading based on Feldman’s book despite concerns from Wakefield teachers about the practicality of revision and the real-world implications for students.

Proponents of standards-based grading claim that grading assignments and deducting marks for not completing them places unnecessary and harmful stress on students. They say teachers shouldn’t focus on grades, but on the concepts and skills they want students to master. They say teachers and even other students can make this happen by regularly checking where each child needs to improve.

“When we don’t penalize for late work,” Feldman said in his book, “we send the message that learning has a more flexible schedule and pace, and that it’s better to produce high-quality work submitted after the deadline than to cut learning short.”

He and several teachers who have written to me have argued that grading assignments simply leads students to copy what their friends have done. Feldman said a 2010 survey of 43,000 high school students by the Josephson Ethics Institute found that more than 80 percent admitted to copying another student’s homework.

Feldman noted that many students already know that practice improves learning. They shoot free throws, rehearse dance moves, or rewrite rap lyrics not because they want good grades, but because they want to improve those skills. “We need to help students understand how academic practice is no different,” he said. He recommends “a feedback community” where not only do teachers go from desk to desk to see how students are doing, but where students also check in on each other’s progress.

It’s a beautiful image, but the brightest teachers I know say it’s at odds with modern adolescence. The distractions of teenage life are at war with the idea that students will do better if teachers remove deadlines.

Mine isn’t the only job where problems arise if you don’t finish on time. High school is where many of us learned “how to develop organizational, time and stress management skills and grow into responsible, civically engaged and considerate young adults,” the Wakefield teachers said in their letter. to Arlington District leaders.

They regularly check in on how their students are doing, they said. But “we fail to see how this practice can continue if ‘meeting completion deadlines’ is not factored into the submission and scoring process.” How do you know what this student needs if you don’t have their work in front of you? Jumping from desk to desk sounds nice, but is there really enough time in our busy school days to make it happen?

Educators everywhere are working on these issues. Educational consultant Ken O’Connor told me, for example, that Wakefield teachers wrongly penalize needy children who do better on tests and other summative assessments than on homework.

I would like to see more data on this. Meanwhile, teachers like those at Wakefield should be able to stick to the methods that have brought them proven success. If you can explain why they shouldn’t have this option, please send your thoughts to me at [email protected]


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