In a standards-based system, the grades are dependent on one thing—student-learning outcomes. In short, only evidence of learning on a particular standard is included in a grade. Behaviors, conduct, work ethic, practice and task completion are all separated from the grade, unless they are explicitly tied to the standards in some way and measured according to the appropriate rubrics. This means that homework completion is not counted toward a student’s grade. Certainly homework plays a role in helping students to practice with their learning, but that practice is not regarded as a measure of student achievement. This can seem like quite a shift for teachers, students, and especially parents, because customarily homework counts toward a student’s grade.
Homework is intended to be practice, whether guided or independent, and practice is not an assessment of student learning—it is an assessment for learning, a formative assessment. The purpose of practice is for a student to improve their understanding. Homework can still be scored, graded, or rated according to a rubric, and it can even be reported in some separate way; however, it should not be counted in the grade as students are still emerging in their understanding of content standards.
Just as with sports athletes, practice can make perfect; however, going to practice is not what counts, it’s performing well in the game. In the same respect, academically speaking, homework completion does not count toward a student’s grade; instead homework, like practice, should be an opportunity for students to conduct self-assessment on their understanding and obtain directive feedback to improve their learning. It is true that practice will help both athletes and students improve; however, when learning any skill, the progress made as one is practicing does not serve an evaluative function. Achievement and struggle during practice should serve to inform instructional strategies and student actions focused on improvement, just as practice would do in sports.
Practice is actually more meaningful when it is done deliberately and feedback is immediately available to the individual to use to improve, such as with music lessons or playing chess (Gobet & Campitelli, 2007). Tracking practice for the sake of showing correlation to performance is a well-intended action that can be considered in a standards-based classroom. It’s just that the behavior of practicing doesn’t necessarily tell what a student knows, and so must be separated from the grade. This prevents the grade from being muddied by what students have completed and thus enhances the ability for a grade to communicate what a student has learned and can do.
If you want to track homework completion and still maintain a standards-based grading system, keep that data tracking separate from assessment grades and report it in a meaningful way. An efficient way to achieve this is to have students track their homework completion using some kind of learning log. If there is no grade tied to the homework, some students may not complete it; however, over time a standards-based system will help students to find learning value in homework rather than extrinsic point value. This is ultimately what all teachers want their students to achieve with homework.
Whether or not homework is tracked, homework should still be connected to standards, because it is an instructional strategy. Listing the standards that are targeted by a homework assignment right on the assignment itself will help students to see the purpose of the assignment better. In this way, students can more clearly connect what they are practicing to what they are learning and more readily use their practice to support learning. As time goes on, students understand the system more and self-direct their practice, thus leading them to elect to do more practice when they want to improve their learning.
Gobet, F., & Campitelli, G. (2007). The role of domain-specific practice, handedness, and starting age in chess. Developmental Psychology. 43 (1), 159-72.
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