Homework Doesn't Improve Student Course Grades, But Could Boost Standardized Test Scores: Study

11/16/2012 01:31 pm ET

There has been much debate surround the value of homework, and a recent study led by an Indiana University School of Education faculty member has found little correlation between time spent on homework and better course grades for math and science students. It did, however, did identify a positive relationship between homework time and performance on standardized tests.

The authors examined survey and transcript data of more than 18,000 10th grade students, focusing on individual classes. They suggest that factors like class participation and attendance may mitigate the association of homework to stronger grade performance, while the type of homework assigned may cater to standardized test preparation versus retaining knowledge of class material.

According to the report’s author, IU School of Education assistant professor Adam Maltese, "if students are spending more time on homework, they're getting exposed to the types of questions and the procedures for answering questions that are not so different from standardized tests.”

The time spent on homework reported by most students represents the equivalent of 100-180 50-minute class periods of extra learning time each year, according to the report.

With the U.S. Department of Education, states and school districts striving to improve STEM education, the report concludes that more evaluation should be done with regard to using homework time more effectively. Maltese suggests an emphasis on quality versus quantity, such as assigning math homework that requires students to analyze new types of problems or data, instead of doing the same types of problems over and over again. In science, students be asked to write concept summaries as opposed to just reading a chapter and answering the questions at the end.

"In today's current educational environment, with all the activities taking up children's time both in school and out of school, the purpose of each homework assignment must be clear and targeted," co-author Robert H. Tai said in a statement. "With homework, more is not better."

Several schools in the U.S. — and even in Europe — have experimented with getting rid of homework entirely. At Gaithersburg Elementary School in Maryland, teachers ask students to spend 30 minutes a night reading in lieu of homework. Principal Stephanie Brant said she sought permission from the district to abolish homework after the school’s staff determined the majority of assignments were worksheets that did not relate to what students were studying in the classroom.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee scrapped extra credit and graded homework for middle schoolers. Administrators are hopeful these measures will allow for better confirmation that students have actually mastered the material they are being taught.

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