Homework as Formative Assessment

Homework as Formative AssessmentIf formative assessment is the planned classroom practice of eliciting evidence of student learning minute-to-minute, day-by-day then how does homework fit into that definition? Homework is not something that, by its own definition, is even done in the classroom, yet it can help teachers elicit evidence of student learning.

If homework is about practicing (or integrating) new learning, much like scrimmages in basketball or football, then it seems reasonable that teachers would provide students with feedback on their homework, and time to use the feedback to get better at what they are doing (and learning). By spending a little bit of time thinking about formative assessment practices while designing/constructing homework assignments/questions, a teacher can get a good understanding of where that student is in their learning, so wouldn’t that make it formative?

I suppose the answer to this question would vary depending on how the teacher is using the homework, what homework is being assigned, and whether that homework is graded. According to Carr and Farr (2000, Grading and Reporting Student Progress in and Age of Standards), ‘Homework should be a risk-free chance to experiment with new skills. Homework should require students to apply what they have learned so they find out what they really do understand.’

In Grant Wiggin’s recent blog post at TeachThought – Using Formative Assessment as Homework – he stated that formative assessment could be graded:

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.

I believe that if you’re grading homework, it is not formative assessment. Formative assessment is not for grading. In fact, student learning from formative assessment shouldn’t even be a factor in grading. Why? While some students have greater knowledge of a certain topic than others at the outset of a lesson, if teachers are successful in their efforts at imparting that lesson, all students should, at least, have the same baseline knowledge of that lesson once it’s taught. If they all can’t meet that baseline of measurement, then where does the responsibility lie – with the student or the teacher?

If homework is in fact graded, then I would consider that a summative (or at best an interim) assessment. As Harvey Craft, in his paper Home Work is Not for Grading states: ‘The consequence of grading homework can be the difference between passing or failing. This is a huge consequence for students to bear because some teachers don’t understand the fundamental difference between formative and summative assessments. Evaluation is not about homework.’

To say that homework can be a formative assessment practice would be accurate to be sure. To say that all homework is formative assessment only depends on the assignment being given and how the teacher uses homework.

Tell us what you think? If you’re a teacher how do you use homework assignments? Do you grade them? Do you use them as a measuring stick for student progress?

Get more formative assessment tips and tricks in our e-book “Making it work: How formative assessment can supercharge your practice.”


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