Published On: Sat, Feb 3rd, 2018

Grading Homework: Effort, Correctness or Students’ Choice?

As I found more students growing apathetic toward completing homework assignments, I delved into data to see what would produce the best results. I predicted that if students’ homework was graded on effort then they would try more problems because they wouldn’t be afraid of getting problems wrong.

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For three weeks I kept track of 180 students’ quantity of problems “attempted” on their 8th grade Algebra I assignments. To receive a successful “attempt”, students had to show their work in addition to writing the answer. Also, the level of difficulty of the related assignments was similar each week.

During the first week, I informed all students that the homework would be graded entirely by effort. They were excited about the week’s work, and seemed to complete quite a few problems — roughly 80% success.

During the second week, I graded all problems for a grade based upon the problems’ correctness, and also kept track of the “attempt” for my study. Students seemed more stressed this week, but with positive results. The 8th graders’ attempted homework problems jumped up to almost 93%!

Finally, during the third week, I allowed students to choose whether their paper would be graded upon attempt or correctness prior to turning it in (after they had done the work.) Most students chose attempt for grading purposes, yet the choice lowered the fear of failure to the point where very few tried. The results were actually the lowest, at about 73% attempted problems.

Why would correctness influence students at such a high rate compared with grading on attempt? From a psychological viewpoint, students do not want to fail. In their minds, they perceived failing on correctness a worse consequence than failing on attempt. As such, they pushed themselves to succeed despite being frustrated at the process. Their effort was increased, and hence their correctness of problems increased as well.

In summary, I was surprised at these results. I thought that grading based on attempt, or effort, would produce the largest quantity of effort from my 8th grade students. In reality, however, grading on correctness performed the best. I have graded this way ever since.

Author: Greg Prescott

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