A self-assessment for educators*

By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

*Note to Parents: Use this assessment to rate the value of your children’s homework assignments.

The drive to assign more and more homework to children at younger ages is in full force in many schools. The desire to increase achievement and raise the test scores has fueled the increased homework phenomenon.

Ignoring the research which shows there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students and that there is only a moderate correlation between homework and achievement in middle school, the beat goes on. Assigning of homework continues to grow. In addition, research shows clearly that homework practices tend to be based on individual teachers’ beliefs about homework rather than on research-based practices.

Some teachers are beginning to question the amount and type of homework they assign. “Is the homework assignment I think my students need really worth the time and effort I am asking them to put into it? Is it worth asking parents to give up prime family time that they could be using to read to their children, play checkers, have a discussion, go for a walk together, or participate in creative or recreational activities?” they wonder.

Clearly some homework is more beneficial than other homework. Some assignments have greater value than other assignments. The following Homework Rating Scale will help you determine whether or not the homework you assigned last night or that you’re contemplating assigning tonight has value. Please look over the assignment in question and rate it using the following scale. Assign points as indicated.

1. Beware of the long assignment. Homework that takes a long time to complete is not useful homework. This usually means the homework is repetitive, boring, or above the child’s skill level. Research shows no value of homework in elementary school and none after an hour or an hour and a half in high school.

How long will the assignment take the child to complete? If it takes less than 15 minutes for K-3 students and less than 30 minutes for students in grades 4-12, give yourself 3 points.

2. Does the homework ask the student to think? Simple recall questions where students have to search notes or textbooks for the one correct answer do not require thinking. Being asked to recall dates, names, historical events, and capitals of states or countries falls into this category.

Questions that ask for opinion or positions that can be defended require more thinking. The more the homework involves comparing how things are the same or different, analyzing, evaluating, ranking, drawing conclusions, summarizing, or predicting, the greater the opportunity your student has to think.

Give yourself 3 points if the assignment asks questions that allow for different right answers, seek an opinion, or ask students to defend an answer. Give yourself 2 bonus points if the assignment is void of simple recall questions.

3. Do the students have any choice in the homework? Do they get to select the topic, the country, the person, or the amount of work to do? The less choice a student has in determining the homework, the greater the likelihood it will appear boring, unrelated to real life, and more like a chore than a learning opportunity. The more choice a student has in homework, the greater the chance he will find it meaningful and will strive to learn more.

Give yourself 4 points if the students have some choice in the assignment.

4. Is the assignment individualized? If everyone in the classroom gets the same homework, you can be assured that it is too easy for some and too difficult for others. Thirty unique children should not be given the same homework assignment. This one-size-fits-all approach to homework is not effective in helping students to learn.

Subtract 3 points if all students had to do the same exact assignment. Give yourself 4 points if every student had an individualized assignment.

5. Was the homework designed by you, the teacher? Homework that comes out of a workbook, a packet of worksheets, or a textbook is less likely to be meaningful than if you put some of your own thought and energy into designing the assignment to meet a specific objective. Teacher-designed homework also increases the odds that the assignment is designed specifically with each student in mind.

Give yourself 4 points if you designed this assignment yourself. If it is a worksheet copied from a workbook, penalize yourself 2 points.

6. Does the homework involve the family in meaningful dialogue? Arguing, nagging, and bribing creates frustration, anxiety, and resistance that is not healthy for family communication. Meaningful dialogue occurs when family members are interviewed, share their life experiences, or bake, build, or create something together.

Give yourself 4 points if the homework involves the family in meaningful dialogue.

7. Is the homework going to be graded? Homework assignments hold more meaning when they are shared among students the next day. In those cases, exploration, explanation, and questioning abound. When homework is simply checked off or graded, it communicates to students that the real reason for doing the homework is evaluation, not learning the concepts. If learning was the real intent of assigning homework, there would be no need to grade it.

Award yourself 3 points if students share their homework the first thing the next day with other students and talk about their experiences and learning. Give yourself 2 bonus points if you do not grade it.

8. Does the student pay a price for getting things wrong on homework? Homework that allows children to make mistakes and learn from them is more valuable than homework that penalizes the child for incorrect answers and incomplete knowledge.

If mistakes on homework work against the student’s grade or result in an increased homework load, subtract 2 points from your score.

9. Does the homework call for transfer of skills or knowledge? Knowledge is not wisdom. If the homework is all about knowledge, facts, reasons, and memorization, the chances are that it has low-level value. Does the homework ask the student to use the material learned in real life situations? Does it ask her to take what she learned over here and put it to use over there? Real learning is knowledge applied. Does your homework ask students to apply the material covered?

Does your homework assignment ask students to take what they learned and put it to use in real life? Award yourself 3 points if your homework has transfer value.

10. What kind of study habits are being reinforced by the homework? If the homework is such that the student procrastinates, resists, surface-skims, and does sloppy work so he can get done, be advised that those are precisely the study habits being learned. If the homework is anticipated and done thoroughly and neatly with a positive attitude, then those habits are being reinforced. What kind of habits is your child’s homework encouraging?

Give yourself 5 points if your students are returning neat, in-depth work and are talking excitedly about it the next day.

11. Do you or the school have a set policy for when homework is assigned? Homework is often less beneficial when it’s assigned in accordance with a policy determining when it is to be given. This holds true for teachers who set up a system in advance and inform the parents and students that homework will be assigned on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for instance.

This announcement that there will be homework on given days is tantamount to the teacher admitting that the homework is not dictated by the lesson or by the students’ need, but rather by the schedule. In these cases there is a greater danger that the homework is being assigned not because it is necessary, but simply to fill the previously announced schedule.

Add 4 more points to your score if you have no set day to assign homework.

12. Does your school have a policy governing how much homework is assigned according to grade level? Some schools, for instance, have a policy that students will do 10 minutes per night of homework for each grade level they represent. In other words, 10 minutes for first grade, 20 minutes for second grade, and so on.

This method of assigning homework insures that some homework will be given each night whether or not it’s appropriate or needed. Once again, the so-many-minutes-a-night commitment increases the chance that homework is filler, repetitive, and meaningless. If you’re a parent, pay special attention to the amount and type of homework if your child’s teacher announces a schedule of this type.

Give yourself 3 points if you do not assign homework over the weekend. Give an additional 2 points if you assign homework less than 2 days a week. Allow 2 more points if you do not give any homework assignments at all.


Add up your homework score. Check your total against the Homework Rating Scale which follows.

40-44……………..Homework Master

This score indicates that your assignments are firmly grounded in educational research and that you have successfully mastered the art of using homework sparingly and wisely.

35-39………………Almost There

This is an above average score that deserves celebration. Congratulate yourself and continue to work toward Master status.

30-34………………Needs Improvement

Examine the items above for your lowest scores. This is where you can begin to improve. You are heading in the right direction. Keep it going.

20-29……………..Need Homework on Homework

What you are doing is not helpful to your students or their families. Consider taking a university class on how to determine the quality and quantity of meaningful homework.

0-19……………….Minor Leaguer

Stop assigning homework of any kind immediately. Please consider adding the following to your summer reading list: The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It, by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, and The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, by Alfie Kohn. Both of these books are full of research about homework and detail how it is negatively affecting our students and their families

© Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose. Chick Moorman is also the author of Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish a Child’s Spirit. Both books are available on Amazon.

Relevant links:

Is Your Child’s Homework Worth Doing
Making Homework WORK: Building Flexibility into Your Homework Policy
Synthesis of Research Findings on Homework
Taking a Stand Against Homework
What About Homework?

Podcast: Ending the Homework Wars with Susan Fitzell

Book: Creating Emotionally Safe Schools: Is Your School an Emotionally Safe Place?
Book: Listas Para Padres: Qué Hacer Y Qué No
Book: The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting

Please Note: Some resource include material originally developed for educators with content that is equally applicable for parents and caregivers.

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