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Why You Should Grade Homework (But Not How You Think)

There are quite a few different views about whether or not homework should be graded. Some say absolutely not; others definitely yes. And still others choose to just give a completion grade but not grade the work itself.

I suppose I’ve actually fallen into all three camps at different points. But none of them really seemed quite right…..

Why You Should Grade Homework (But Not How You Think)

If You Don’t Count Homework

I was taught in college not to count homework at all. Just to record whether or not the students did the homework and to assign extra work if they did not.

The problem with this, though, is that the students quickly learn that homework doesn’t count for a grade and thus they’re much less motivated to put much effort into it.

And, unfortunately, a completion grade isn’t much better. At least not in my experience.

When I gave completion grades for homework, what I found was that the students’ work just got worse and worse. Of course some students still did excellent work, but many of them just threw something down on the paper and said they were done.

It just wasn’t working.

If You Do Count Homework

I knew I needed to change how I graded homework, but I wasn’t too thrilled with just giving them a percentage grade either.

You see, I taught math, and I view math homework as practice. So let’s say a student makes a mistake on 1 out of 6 problems. Is it really fair to give them an 83% on that homework? Or if they make 2 mistakes to give them a 67%? That just seemed way too harsh for me, and that’s not even considering the 50%’s, 33%’s, 17%’s, and 0%’s that they would earn if they made more mistakes.

I wanted my students to do their very best on their homework, but I also didn’t want to reward them with horrible grades when they inevitably made mistakes as part of the learning process.

I needed to hold them accountable without destroying their grades….So I finally came up with a solution I was happy with.

The Solution

I decided that I would grade homework a little unconventionally. Since I typically only assigned about 6 or 7 problems per assignment…. (You can read why I chose to give so few problems in the post “Why You Should Give Way Less Homework” – it’s definitely something to consider). Anyhow, since each assignment typically consisted of 6 or 7 problems, I took off 5 points for each problem that was incorrect (but valiantly attempted) and 15 points off for each problem that wasn’t attempted at all (or that they just put down a random answer for with no work to back it up.)

So here’s what their grades would look like if they at least gave a good attempt at each problem:

-0  100%
-1  95%
-2  90%
-3  85%
-4  80%
-5  75%
-6  70%
-7  65%

As you can see, even if they really struggled with the concept and missed every problem, they still received a 65%. Now this wasn’t going to help them earn an A, but it wasn’t going to kill their grade either. I rewarded their attempt but also didn’t just give them a 100% just for trying either. It’d finally found a wonderful happy medium.

Now if someone didn’t finish half the assignment, their grade was not so pretty. Let’s say they didn’t try 4 out of the 7 problems at all. Well, that’s -15 each, so their grade was a very-fair-but-not-so-flattering 40%. A very accurate reflection of how much work and effort they put forth.

If Your Assignments Are Longer….

If you assign more problems you can simply adjust the numbers so that if a student misses all the problems their grade is somewhere between 60% and 70% (or whatever you want the lowest score to be). So, for example, if you give 10 problems then you could make them 4 points each (because 4 x 10=40 and 100-40=60). Of course you’d need to take off the full percentage value (in this case, 10 points) if they don’t even try a problem.

What About Not Following Directions?

I used to take off additional points when students didn’t follow directions. I’m talking things like using pen instead of pencil, using the wrong kind of paper, not putting their name on the paper, not showing their work, etc.

But then my administrators said that this wasn’t in alignment with our school policy, so I had to come up with another idea. And I’m actually really glad I did.

I ended up making students either complete or redo the incorrect part of the assignment. For example, if they used pen instead of pencil, this didn’t affect their grade but they had to redo it in pencil. Same thing if they didn’t show their work or decided to use computer paper instead of lined paper. (I honestly don’t remember what I did with the no name – I think I either just took off a couple points or I counted it late until they came to see me and identified their paper. Anyone have any better ideas?)

Did this take a little bit more paperwork on my part? Yes it did, but I found that requiring them to redo the work was way more effective than taking points off. And soon I had fewer and fewer issues.

So what about you? Do you count homework for a grade? Why or why not? What do you think of this idea?

Want more advice about how to manage homework? Check out the post: 10 Tips for Giving & Managing Homework (Without Going Crazy)

How to Manage Homework without going crazy

Feature photo by identity chris is

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  • THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I have been struggling with these issues since school started. These are brilliant suggestions and I am very excited to try them! Especially having them re-do an assignment when not following directions!

  • I really identified with your issues in grading homework. I can see how your idea of taking 5 percentage point off for each incorrect problem and 15 percentage points off for each problem that was not attempted can motivate students to complete assignments. At the same time, it does not discourage the students from making and learning from mistakes. I teach primary grades. What I have noticed with my class in particular is that my students are heavily assisted at home when completing their homework. At times, the homework is returned in their parents handwriting. How is it possible for these homework assignments to be graded fairly?

    • Yeah, that is tough. My best advice is to 1) only count homework for a small percentage of their final grade. That way it won’t really make a big difference if the parents are doing it for them and 2) I would try to talk to these parents one-on-one. And I would focus the conversation on how it’s not helping their kid if they do their homework. Explain that it’s better for the student to try & make mistakes & learn from them than for the parent to do the homework and for them to get them all right but not have learned anything.

  • I taught in the social studies department and many times could not read an answer due to horrible handwriting. I would ask students to redo the work in neater handwriting (or typed if they insisted they couldn’t write neater) if they wanted the answer to be graded.
    I believe it is important that students be held accountable for their effort in learning as well as what they learn. It is hard to strike a balance where they begin to take responsibility for the work they do while having grading policies to back that up but not kill the grade at the same time. Thanks for great insight on a very relevant topic.

  • I grade homework unconventionally as well. Each assignment is worth 10 points. They receive 5 points in class just for completing the assignment according to the directions. Then, in class, I present all of the answers and allow the students to ask questions and correct their answers. Then, I grade 5 problems for accuracy. If they had an answer wrong and correct it during class, that counts as a correct answer. My hope is that they are paying attention and learning from their mistakes. So far, it seems to be working.

    • I like your method. I am trying to rethink my homework grading policies and this seems to resonate with me the most. Thank you.

      • Completion checks and self-correcting to understand what practice went well and what needs work gives accountability for most kids, especially in math. Writing is completion with some grading by me. Make ups for missed homework is required during all class enrichment time (others can chose their activities). It has been effective so far…

  • What about for writing homework? As a parent, I agree with your grading scheme. After all the blood, sweat, and tears we have to endure to make our kids do their homework, it is really disheartening to get no feedback (or only a star showing that the teacher saw a paper with some writing on it). The students really need feedback on what they did and didn’t do correctly. And comments such as “use more commas next time” don’t count.

    • I use a rubric (which identifies key writing components) that I attach to each student’s paper when I’ve given them a writing assignment; this is in addition to margin comments. It’s a ton of work. I’m not sure students even read the margin comments unless they are revising their paper. Then they usually correct only the comments I made and none other. There’s no fast or efficient way to grade writing assignments. Each paper is unique. What is wrong on paper might not be so wrong on another. So sigh.

      • I’ll never forget a paper my daughter did in 1st grade. She had a question “why do astronaughts float in space?” She answered with “Astronaughts float in space because there is no gravity in space.” I was happy with it so signed off on it and put it in her bag. Got it back the next day with a giant red sharpie X on it and a 0 points next to it. Never did figure out why other than she said it “wasn’t the answer in the teachers manual. My daughter was so discouraged because she was so proud of that paper and thought she got most of them right. It was full of X marks because she didn’t elaborate or get the answer she was looking for despite them being correct. The following year her teacher had a system with a rubric and it went phenomenally better. Last year not so much. Now we are homeschooling. I came across this looking for a decent way to keep grades for a 4th grader but not be so stringent. She wants into a program that requires us to submit grades.

  • What about for writing homework? As a parent, I agree with your grading scheme. After all the blood, sweat, and tears we have to endure to make our kids do their homework, it is really disheartening to get no feedback (or only a star showing that the teacher saw a paper with some writing on it). The students really need feedback on what they did and didn’t do correctly. And comments such as “use more commas next time” don’t count.

  • Thanks for all these ideas. I agree that students who are trying and completing homework should not have their averages go down because they are making mistakes during the learning process. I teach middle school and have 70 students. Sometimes I rotate what weeks are completion grades vs fully graded, but yes, some kids start guessing – would it be a completion week , and the quality went down. I have the opposite problem from parents doing homework. I teach in a very low socioeconomic neighborhood where students are dealing with extreme circumstances and problems beyond our school walls. A student who participates in class, completes class work, does well on assessments but never turns in homework is a situation I see over and over again. When I think of all the responsibilities my middle schoolers have at home: taking care of smaller siblings, in charge at home while parents are at work or not home, I think- I wouldn’t have time for all this homework either. I almost prefer when they sign up for enrichment after school programs and wish that could count as homework. I do give a weekly packet that is due Friday. They could do a page a night or if they have a club after school or responsibilities at home, they could double up another night. Thanks for sharing these ideas

  • I like your suggestions, I allow my 4th and 5th graders to return an assignment as often as needed until they reach -0. My thought is that I want them to identify their error/mistake and correct it independently, if possible. If not, I am always willing to help. It does take more work some nights, however I know my students are understanding a concept and not just skipping over the concept.

  • What about for writing homework? As a parent, I agree with your grading scheme. After all the blood, sweat, and tears we have to endure to make our kids do their homework, it is really disheartening to get no feedback (or only a star showing that the teacher saw a paper with some writing on it). The students really need feedback on what they did and didn’t do correctly. And comments such as “use more commas next time” don’t count.

  • I’m so glad I have found your blog Linda! I have been blessed by your posts, the webinar, and now am going through the Classroom Management course. Though I have been teaching for 13 years, I see that I can always learn more strategies for motivating and interacting with my students differently in order to better manage my classroom. Do you have a handout that you use to introduce and explain this homework policy to students and/or parents? I am struggling with finding a succint way to do that. I am loving this concept though! Thank you!!!

  • Homework should never be done for a grade, simply due to one factor, it isn’t a valid way to measure the learner. Grades should measure knowledge gained in the curriculum. Unfortunately in many schools, grades don’t mean that at all. There are 5 kinds of students (in this example) you can probably come up with more, but 5 for sure. 1) The student that does the work on their own with no resources for free answers. 2) The student that doesn’t even think about doing the homework and thus scores a 0 on the assignment. Translation, an F means they have no knowledge what so ever of the standard(s) attempted to practice. This isn’t necessarily true. 3) The student that goes home and gets all of the answers from the internet or other documented resource on their own. Grade doesn’t validate learning just ability to research. 4) The student that goes home and parents want good grades so badly they do the work for the student. 5) The student that deserves support and receives it at school, but then has no support at home to complete homework. IN ALL CASES, (EXCEPT MAYBE THE LAST) THE STUDENTS COME BACK TO SCHOOL AND HAS THEIR WORK MEASURED AGAINST THE SAME STICK.

    How can giving homework a grade be VALID grading and honest communication of learners progress through the curriculum?

    • Man…by your standards…no one is held accountable for anything. That’s not how the world works…we’re here to teach them accountability, how to follow rules and that there are consequences for their actions. Homework does just that! These aren’t babies you’re dealing with – these are smart and savvy kids. Treat them as such.

  • I teach middle school math. Our homework only counts for 5% of their final grade so many don’t do it at all. My homework assignments vary in the number of problems depending on the topic. My grading scheme is a little different, but has similar goals. If students make an honest attempt and show their work, they get an 80. If they get a reasonable number right, they get a 90. If they get most, but not necessarily all of the problems correct, they get a 100. If they don’t try all the problems, they get a lower grade. I also make a lot of corrections on their pages to show them how to do the problems correctly.

  • I love this strategy! I’m a first year intern teacher and love hearing different ideas and methods! Thanks for sharing!

  • I use grades and incentives with my students’ homework. If a student completes all of their homework on time each night, they receive a punch on their homework card. As students’ cards are filled up, they get to play a game called Homeworkopoly. This is saved for Friday afternoons. Depending on the assignment, I may have students turn in their homework for an actual grade, or it may just be turned in for points. They don’t know which action will be taken. If a student didn’t do the homework, they don’t get their card punched. If it was a graded assignment, they may turn in late, with points deducted. For those who have not followed directions, they do their papers over; no name papers are charged money from our classroom economy; and kids who rush through and don’t do their best are given a “speeding ticket” where they have to redo and pay a fine with their class cash. (They earn cash through class jobs, compliments from other teachers, going above and beyond…) I teach 5th grade at a Christian school, so my students do not face many of the hardships that others have mentioned. Our problems are more of too much parent intervention or kids with too many activities after school and don’t have time for homework. I usually do not have a problem at all with students doing their homework.

  • I use a similar system! All homework is worth 5 points no matter how many priblemsni assign. If students valiantly attempt them all and they’re all right I give them 5. If they attempt them all but missed some I give a 4.5 or 4 just depends on the effort. I rarely gave below a 3 unless students just didn’t do their work.

  • I found your balanced solution thought-provoking and convincing. It makes sense to include a reward for effort ALONGSIDE accuracy in the grading practice assignments (not just one or the other as is often done), since practice is the main goal of the assignments, rather than focusing solely on accuracy, which I think is what should be solely measured in a test or final exam, in order to determine what students have learned. As you say, this is a good way to avoid demotivation through harshness while also avoiding demotivation through a lack of the accountability and feedback that can help students improve their performance.

    My only question is, Linda, do you explain how this works to students? I can imagine a scenario in which a student who doesn’t understand the purpose of this grading method for practice assignments might receive an unwelcome shock on a test and (probably along with his/her parents) complain to you, “How come, after I always got 85% on all my assignments, I only got a 65% on the test?” (The student might not realize that since the he/she always got 3 out of 6 practice questions wrong in spite of his/her sincere attempts on the assignments, then if the student made no effort to go back and relearn what was missed, those assignment grades, which were meant to be only a partial reflection of what the student had actually learned, were not the feedback with which to keep track of his/her complete mastery of the knowledge).

    What would you do in this case?

    I’m also wondering, Linda, as an idea for inspiration, since you seem to have developed a system that works well for you, how much of the final grade do your homework assignments count for?

    Thanks for sharing your hard-earned knowledge with us!

    • I seee your point. I have the same question. In my school, 60% are grades of work done in class, 20% is homework and materials, and assessment is 20%.

  • Good ideas which I agree homework is important but we need to be sure it does not become a Black Hole that draws them to their doom. I identify “Drill Work” which is the type of problem which can be done quickly for practice but do not require it to be completed in written form, but every Friday we have a “Drill Quiz” over the past week’s work. Also, for every section I assign 2 to 3 “Problems” which are required in written form then I collect these on the test day as a group for the sections covered on the test. The group then becomes one Homework grade and it usually has 15 to 25 problems. If Drill Quizzes are especially low then students can do the “Drill Work” in written form for some additional points which usually improves their quiz scores as well.

  • When you speak of grading homework, do you grade each individual paper yourself, or do you have your students trade-and-grade? I am a high school math teacher.

  • What are your thoughts on writing homework such as drafts of an essay? If the student has not completed the draft, he cannot work on revising and editing with peers. It’s a sticking point that I just cannot find an answer to.

    • There’s no one right answer for this, but what I did was provided time in class for them to start the drafts (so I could give feedback, make sure they were working, etc.) and then it was up to them to finish for homework/on their own time if they didn’t finish in the time I gave them.

      There’s just no way to give enough class time for EVERYONE to finish – some students need more time.

  • For a teacher not to grade homework is an abdication of responsibility and an insult to the student.
    Students need to see where they are successful and where they are failing [shock, horror!]. We’re supposed to be preparing them for the real world, so ask yourself, how comfortable would you be with this child fixing your car? Treating your water? Measuring your medications? Doing your tax return? Handling your food?
    We didn’t spend years in college to massage egos (students”, or parents’ (or principals’!). When 90% can’t count change, we’re to blame.
    Homework counts. If we treat it with contempt, so will they.

  • I teach 6th grade and I do something almost exactly like this. I only count a homework assignment as 10 points, and most assignments are between 8 and 12 questions. I take off 1/2 point for each incorrect problem. Occasionally I will make a short assignment worth 5 points or a longer one worth 15 but I grade the same way. Students rarely leave the problem blank, but I may rethink this and take off 1 full point for undone work.

  • I’m in my 26th year of teaching, and grading homework is something I seem to go back and forth on, over and over and over.
    I’ve graded for completion, not graded at all, or some combination of accuracy/completion. I’ve given homework quizzes. One method I tried which I really loved for the most part, was assigning a 50 if every problem was attempted, and then checking 5 problems at random for accuracy.
    This worked for a while. And then I started to notice that some were using the PhotoMath app and writing the work down verbatim. Homework doesn’t count for a large percentage, but still…

  • I grade homework on a rubric with four categories.
    Quantity of Completed Work up to 5pts if all questions are attempted, Quality of Work completed up 5 pts. Procedures followed up to 3 points and Timeliness of Submission 2 points. All homework has a max of 15 points. This keeps the calculations simple and gives students feedback about their homework strength.

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