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July 30, 2014

Using Homework as a Formative Assessment

The role of assessments in education is well-known, but when it comes to formative assessments, particularly in the context of homework, educators' perspectives vary.  When using homework as a formative assessment, we enter into the debate surrounding grading homework and its role as a formative assessment tool.

While some argue that formative assessments should not be graded, others emphasize the importance of homework in fostering student mastery. Striking a balance between various assessment forms, from formative to summative, is crucial for effective teaching and learning. Explore the significance of formative assessments and homework in shaping students' academic success and future habits.

Using homework as a formative assessment

Katy Dyer in a post on NWEA—Homework as Formative Assessment—took the position that homework cannot be graded if a teacher wants to use it as a formative assessment. “Formative assessment is not for grading,” adding later, “To say that all homework is formative assessment only depends on the assignment being given and how the teacher uses homework.” 

Here’s what Grant Wiggins said in Using Homework as a Formative Assessment:

In short, no matter the pure definition, I don’t think it is accurate to say that formative assessments can’t ever be graded. What matters – what makes a formative assessment formative – is whether I have a chance to get and use feedback in a later version of the ‘same’ performance. It’s only formative if it is ongoing; it’s only summative if it is the final chance, the ‘summing up’ of student performance.

Graded or not, homework is an ideal practice space for student mastery. Teachers can use this space (evaluated or evaluation-free) as a way to see daily student progress.

But can all the assessment forms be balanced or mixed to a certain degree?

Turning student practice into a “Next Generation Assessment”

It’s fair to say that there is a limitation, right wall, when it comes to testing. Finding the right balance of summative and formative assessments is complicated—but perhaps it’s not out of the question particularly when it comes to Standards-Based Instruction. Gee Kin Chou, in Quelling the Controversy Over Technology and Student Testing, mentioned one approach to balancing of assessments—yet admitted it could lead to more testing:

Attendees at NCSA 2014 spoke of a ‘balanced assessment system’ comprised of frequent formative assessments to inform teaching, a few interim assessments throughout the year to check alignment with standards, and the annual summative assessment for accountability.

Gee Kin Chou hints toward the future of assessments, augmented by technology, where the boundaries of summative and formative assessment just may become obscured.

The potential to blend instruction with both formative and summative assessments into one continuous process that engages the student…The cautious hope among many NCSA 2014 attendees is that technology eventually will enable assessments to be fully integrated into instruction, and students will neither know nor care whether the activity is being “graded”; they will just be learning. 

It’s fair to say that the future of all assessments is still unknown. What about just looking at formative assessments for what they are?

Why formative assessments & homework matter

Putting more effort into formative assessments seems to be the right approach to take (whether homework is leveraged in the process or not). The question then becomes this: What are the sources of formative assessments and how should we value them?

In a 2006 studyHarris Cooper, a professor of psychology and director of Duke’s Program in Education, reviewed over 60 research studies on homework between 1987 and 2003. He concluded that homework undoubtedly has a positive effect on student achievement and overall success in school. “With only rare exception, the relationship between the amount of homework students do and their achievement outcomes was found to be positive and statistically significant.”

While this may be true, giving students too much homework can be detrimental. Students tend to get burned out and any correlation between homework and higher grades may be diminished. 

No matter how technology influences the future of assessments—from formative to interim to summative—it’s clear that all forms of assessment matter and so does homework. Finding the right balance of mixing assessments, and making students responsible for meaningful and balanced homework assignments, seems to be the right approach to take.

And for anyone still skeptical about homework, here’s how Sew Ali at Edudemic, in Why Homework Matters, puts it:

So, even if you don’t buy into the fact that homework will make a child a higher academic achiever in the short term (even though research states otherwise), realize that it just might create a human being with good habits, a rich work ethic, and a success later on in the world outside academia.


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