Richard DuFour

Richard DuFour, EdD, was a public school educator for 34 years. A prolific author and sought-after consultant, he is recognized as one of the leading authorities on helping school practitioners implement the PLC at Work™ process.

Should Homework Be Graded?

I received an interesting question from a teacher regarding recommendations for whether or not homework should be graded. He described a scenario in which a student demonstrates proficiency on every quiz, test, and exam but refuses to do homework each day. If, on a daily basis, the student receives a zero for not doing homework, the student would fail the class. If, on the other hand, homework is optional, he fears most students won’t complete it. So, he asked, "How should I approach homework in determining grades?"

This relatively straightforward question actually raises several significant issues such as, "What does a grade represent in our school?" "Should homework be required or optional?" "Should homework be graded?" and "Is it appropriate to give a zero if a student does not complete a homework assignment?"

In most schools, what a grade represents remains in the eye of the beholder of the individual teacher. Some teachers grade homework; some do not. Some allow students to retake a test; some do not. Some provide students with additional time and support; some do not. Some provide extra credit for tasks unrelated to the curriculum; some do not. Some consider behavior, participation, and promptness in determining a grade; some do not. It is time for educators to grapple with the question, "What does a grade represent in our school?" in a more meaningful way.

I have asked thousands of educators across North America what they feel is the single most important criterion for determining a student’s grade at the end of a course. Their inevitably overwhelming answer is, "The student has demonstrated the achievement of a clearly defined standard." If a team of teachers has clarified 1) what students must know and be able to do and 2) the indicators they will use to monitor student learning, the grade at the end of the course should be based on the student’s success in achieving the intended standard. Ironically, many of those same teachers would justify failing a student who clearly demonstrated mastery of the essential learnings because of missing homework assignments.

In his outstanding synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to student achievement, John Hattie found that homework can improve achievement, particularly for older (high school aged) students when the homework involves rote learning, practice, or rehearsal of the subject matter. He also found, however, it can actually have adverse effects unless the teacher carefully and promptly monitors each student’s work because homework often causes students to internalize incorrect responses and strategies and can actually undermine student motivation. The more complex the task or the learning, the less value homework offers. Furthermore, different home environments play a role in the varying ability of students to complete work successfully. My friend and colleague Bob Eaker elected to stop having all fifth graders in the school he was leading complete the annual homework project of building a replica of a frontier fort because, as he put it, "We discovered some Dads just built better forts than others."

Therefore, I submit the following propositions:

  1. Homework should be given only when the instructor feels it is essential to student learning. If, for example, the teacher believes that by practicing a skill and receiving prompt and specific feedback students will learn at higher levels, homework is very appropriate and should be assigned.
  2. The teacher then has an obligation to monitor the homework carefully and provide individual students with precise feedback based on their specific needs.
  3. If the work is deemed essential to a student’s learning, that student should not have the option of taking a zero but instead should be required to complete the work. This necessitates a coordinated, schoolwide approach to responding when students do not complete their work because there are limits as to what an individual teacher can require. The schoolwide response should be timely, directive (non-invitational), systematic (not left to the discretion of individual teachers), and should never require the student to be removed from new direct instruction. (For examples of such a systematic approach, see Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn by DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, and Karhanek and/or Pyramid Response to Intervention: RTI, Professional Learning Communities, and How to Respond When Kids Don’t Learn by Buffum, Mattos, and Weber.)

Let me offer two different scenarios regarding homework. In the first, the teacher is attempting to help students learn how to write a research paper--a very complex task. After providing instruction on the various elements of this task, he assigns students to complete a draft of the first two pages of their research paper. He assigns this work because he hopes to 1) determine the levels of understanding of each student, 2) provide each student with specific feedback regarding his or her initial efforts and offer strategies for improvement, and 3) identify any areas where many students seem to be struggling so that he can reteach those areas with a different instructional approach. He believes this assignment is vital to student success in this very essential skill. He does not grade this work because it is initial practice, nor does he allow a student to take a zero instead of completing the assignment. Because it is vital to learning, the student is required to do the work.

In the second scenario, a high school math teacher tells students that she will be assigning homework each day because she believes the daily practice and prompt feedback are essential to their learning. She also advises them, however, that students will not be required to continue practicing each day when they have demonstrated they are mastering the content. There will be daily homework for all students for the first two weeks of school, at which time a unit test will be given. Students who earn an A or B on the test will not be required to complete daily homework during the next unit. For them, homework will be optional. All other students will be required to continue doing their daily practice. This procedure provides an incentive to students to become proficient. Students with a B will work hard to maintain it from unit to unit; students with a C+ will put in extra effort to raise their grade. The goal for these students becomes proficiency in essential skills rather than completing homework to avoid punishment. Once again, students who had not earned the prerequisite grade would be required, not invited, to complete homework through a schoolwide system of intervention.

I contend the approach to homework of these two teachers is aligned with the commitment to learning and focus on results of a PLC. I hope more schools will begin to adapt their homework practices accordingly.



If homework is concise, interesting, and challenging, there is a chance that students will do it.

I made for this reason. Here is the link:

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This is a questions that I go back and forth with almost daily. The policy in my classroom is that all homework must be completed on time on the day that it is due. I do not give my students a numerical grade. They are graded on a 10 point scale. If they complete (or at least attempt) the homework according to my polices they receive the full 10 points. I feel that students should practice the concepts that my math and science lessons teach. This not only reinforces the learning but also gives me a way to tell if my students are understanding the topics. Also, I feel that it is important to review and discuss any questions that the students may be struggling with. If I do not give my students the opportunity to review concepts, vocabulary, and strategies, the learning is lost. Students needs will not be met. Finally, homework is a way to keep the teacher/parent connection. Parents need to see what their children are doing at school. Teachers and parents should be partners in children's education.

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Pamela Hawke

As a teacher, I like to assign homework. My reasons are two fold.First, it allows my students to have further practice on concepts that were taught. Secondly, I think that it would allow the parents to observe the processes and concepts their students are doing at school.Parents can have first hand knowledge of what their children are doing. They can be able to offer any necessary assistance or seek teacher clarification so that they can also be meaninfully involved in the teaching/learning process. I do not grade my homework but I do make the time to review it with my students. I also discuss with my students the personal and academic benefits of doing homework.

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Austin Buffum and Mike Mattos

Dear Blogger,

Before we discuss systems that help students who wo't do work make better decisions, we think it's important to make certain we examine some of the research regarding the effective use of homework in contributing to student learning. John Hattie's synthesis of meta-analyses focused upon student learning found that homework can be negatively correlated with improved student achievement unless teachers give immediate feedback to students on the quality of their work, as students may repetitiously practice something wrong. His studies also found that the more complex the task or learning, the less helpful homework became to student learning.

Now, if homework has been assigned because it is essential to student learning, and feedback is given to students on a timely basis, we do agree that students should not be allowed to simply 'opt out.' If our mission is to ensure that all students learn, and if this homework is essential to that mission, then we would suggest some of the following strategies.

In our book, Pyramid Response to Intervention: RTI, Professional Learning Communities, and How to Respond When Kids Don't Learn, Buffum, Mattos and Weber (2009) we emphasize the importance of targeting interventions based upon a diagnosis. One of the primary targeting strategies is to differentiate between students who can't do the work (failed learners) and those who won't do the work (intentional nonlearners). These two different groups of students need radically different and separate interventions - perhaps this is why many schools struggle with the students who don't do their homework. Placing these students into a traditional tutoring session doesn't get at the fact that they won't do the work, and it often serves to frustrate the poor teacher who is at the same time trying to help students who want to learn but lack the pre-requisite skills to do so.

One highly successful example of this kind of targeting has been working for years - guided study at Adlai Stevenson High School. You can read about this program in detail in Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn, DuFour, DuFour, Eaker and Karhanec (2004). In brief, no more than eight to ten students are removed from the traditional study hall and placed in a room with a non-certificated employee who hovers over them until they complete their work. Over time, most students come to the conclusion that it would simply be easier to complete the homework on time than to have this person stand over them each and every day for an entire period. The staff at Stevenson have adopted the following motto for students who can, but won't do their work : "Harass them till they pass."

Another example of this kind of targeted intervention is explained in Chapter Seven of our book. At Pioneer Middle School in Tustin, CA, intentional nonlearners experience mandatory study hall, mandatory homework help, frequent progress reports, study-skills classes, goal-setting and career planning support, as well as targeted rewards. All of these programs work together to send the message to "won't's" that they will not be allowed the option of not learning in the first place. It is also important to recognize that these approaches are not solely punitive. They attempt to reward students who do their work by allowing them to earn privileges that are meaningful and age-appropriate. As we state in our book, "The bottom line in creating effective responses to such students is this: The school's desire for these learners to do the work must be significantly greater than the children's desire not to do it. If a school has the same 'zero-tolerance' approach to lack of student effort as it does for drugs or violence, then it will become a 'laziness-free' zone."

In addition to the two books mentioned above that are full of examples of successful approaches in dealing with students who won't do their homework, we would also refer you to the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports website, There are examples there of how Tier I Behavior Supports can prevent many of the student behaviors that can frustrate educators before they take hold. Remember, "the best intervention is prevention."

The pyramid of interventions developed at Adlai Stevenson High School begins with a number of approaches (counselor watch, summer study skills course, good friend program, freshman orientation day, freshman advisory program and freshman mentor program, all designed to prevent the student problems (including not completing homework) that plague many educators today. A great video representation of the approach taken at Stevenson High School is available through Solution Tree: Through New Eyes: Examining the Culture of Your School.

Austin Buffum and Mike Mattos

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Thanks...I will share your comments with my staff as we begin planning for the school year. I know they too are concerned about homework. As we keep learning more, I am sure we can make homework work better for our students.

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Becky DuFour

Dear grrlgenius,

You asked...

What about elementary students? We can not expect a first grader to self-select the homework that meets their needs or for parents to grade their reading comprehension. I am thinking that for primary/intermediate students, the point of homework is habit. Any thoughts?

In the primary and elementary grades, homework should be designed to allow students to practice and apply newly taught skills/concepts that are essential to their success as learners. We think it's vitally important that teachers provide feedback and support to the students based on the quality of completed homework so that students understand that completing homework will help them learn at higher levels. Certainly, some of the essential skills we want all students to learn are things like time management, work ethic, good study habits, etc., but the primary purpose of assigning homework at any grade level should be to support the academic learning process.

We are having discussions about this at my school, with the idea being that homework should be consistent…meaning that all the kids in a particular grade level should get the same basic work, and be expected to complete it at roughly the same rate as the others in their grade level. Otherwise we get some kids with tons of homework and some with none.

The team could also explore differentiating homework assignments based on evidence of student learning across a grade level. For example, in third grade you will likely have a group of students across the grade level who have not yet memorized their multiplication facts - their homework should be designed to give them practice at that essential math skill. For the students who have memorized their facts, their homework might be a multi-step work problem that requires them to apply their knowledge.

The ultimate problem is that the only consequence our teachers give for not doing homework is losing recess. There’s got to be a better way. Our kids need their recess!

We encourage your faculty to explore the cause of each student not completing their homework (is it because they can't do it or they won't do it) and then agree upon and consistently apply appropriate consequences for not completing homework.

For the "Won't Dos" consider the following:
the student attends a working lunch (and/or breakfast) session rather than a social lunch with peers until the homework is completed;
the student does not have the opportunity to self-select a learning station that day - they must complete their homework during that time;
the student is not allowed to complete a classroom or school-wide job that day until the homework is completed.

For the "Can't Dos":
assign the student an older "buddy" student to meet with them at the start/end of each day to help with homework
establish a homework-help room/session and use community volunteers , mentors, and/or school staff to work with students who need assistance
work with these students during guided and independent practice activities in the classroom and during intervention/enrichment time across the grade level
work with parents of these students to give them the tools, materials, etc. they can use at home to help their child become more successful

Best Wishes,
Becky DuFour

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RTI Homework « from where i stand

To be honest, I’ve never seen a school do RTI (Response to Intervention) well for students who refuse to finish homework. I’d say most schools struggle with this, and even ignore it to some degree because of the “larger” problems that plague their halls. I’m going to be looking into this a little more, so if you have seen a school that handles the issue of homework purposefully and efficiently, please, let me know. I’d love to observe or talk to administrators at the school about how the system works.

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What about elementary students? We can not expect a first grader to self-select the homework that meets their needs or for parents to grade their reading comprehension. I am thinking that for primary/intermediate students, the point of homework is habit. Any thoughts?

We are having discussions about this at my school, with the idea being that homework should be consistent...meaning that all the kids in a particular grade level should get the same basic work, and be expected to complete it at roughly the same rate as the others in their grade level. Otherwise we get some kids with tons of homework and some with none. The ultimate problem is that the only consequence our teachers give for not doing homework is losing recess. There's got to be a better way. Our kids need their recess!

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I assign homework more for practice and enrichment. Currently I do not assign much homework. So my response to "Should Homework be Graded?" is yes, especially if it is not given often or given to show students achievement of that particular skill. My reason for not assigning much work for students to do after school is they have worked all day for me. There is very little down time. Students who do not use their time wisely do have homework. But after students have worked eight hours, I do not feel the need to load them down with homework for the evening unless it is necessary.

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I have an idea to share re: homework. On back-to-school night last year, I made a deal with their parents: I said, "I won't assign grammar or essay homework, if you will supervise your child's reading-discussion homework." Every parent made positive comments about this approach to homework. Few parents at the intermediate, middle, or high school levels want or know how to supervise written work. Supervising their child's reading is something that parents support and perceive as valuable. Here, in a nutshell is the homework plan: Students read for thirty minutes, four times per week. Parents grade a three-minute discussion of each reading session. Students lead this discussion with reading comprehension strategy discussion prompts. I got a high degree of buy-in from parents and students. I flesh out this homework program much more on my blog at

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To any kid, the phrase “no homework” is like a special treat. It’s a reprieve from the duty of having to find time to complete the task. Yet teachers assign homework because it has many attributes considered important when educating children. It can be used to reinforce the skills and concepts taught in class. It can teach students responsibility and maturity. It can even sometimes be used as the saving grace for a student who isn’t a good “test-taker”. But there are serious problems with homework. Students don’t often want to complete it and as a result their letter grade declines – it has even been known to result in a failing grade. But does the ‘F’ reflect that the student has not learned anything in the class? Or does it reflect his or her behavior, i.e., laziness? On the other hand, does a student who is responsible and hands in all her homework but fails to demonstrate that she has learned really deserve a grade that communicates otherwise?

The problem with homework is not homework itself, but how we have come to use it; not as a teaching tool but as a behavior modification tool. Teachers have often used homework to either punish or reward students for their behavior but often not as a tool for the student to demonstrate what he or she has learned. For example, a student that hands in his homework on time receives points, and thus he is rewarded for his behavior. On the other hand, another student can either be slightly punished for her procrastination by turning in an assignment late for reduced points, or severely punished when she never completes it. The question then is how do educators use homework responsibly so that it provides meaning for students and removes the reflection of behavior from the final grade?

The major concern with homework is that it may confuse what a student’s final grade really means. In a standards-based education, the grade should reflect a student’s understandings and skills related to that specific content or grade. For example, Susan’s current grade in an English class is the equivalent of a letter grade of ‘B’, while Steven’s is a ‘C’. What that should tell anyone who looks at those letters is that Susan has demonstrated an understanding of the outcomes and is currently mastering the skills required in her English class, while Steven’s grade reflects that he currently hasn’t mastered all of the skills and that he has yet to demonstrate that he fully understands the outcomes. But, if Steven’s grade was lower because he didn’t hand in homework assignments that are weighted at 10% of his total grade, yet he has demonstrated an understanding of the outcomes and has shown mastery of the required skills, then his grade is a reflection of behavior not his understanding or ability. The same might be said of Susan who hasn’t proven an understanding of the outcomes and skills, yet because she received extra credit for handing in an extra assignment, her grade now misrepresents her actual knowledge and skill capability.

So what’s the fix? First, teachers have to look at how they are weighting their grades. What is really being added up to determine a student’s final grade? What is the grade really reflecting? Is it a student’s behavior or is it an accurate measure of a student’s understandings and/or skills? This is a dilemma to be certain. Educators want to teach responsibility and competence because we understand what it means if we aren’t on time, or don’t hand in something our boss has asked us to complete – we either demoted or fired. But in a standards-based education system, are a student’s grades really the best way, or most appropriate way, for educators to teach this? There may be other options.

A first step is for a teacher to set up his grade book to reflect what he wants his students to understand and do, so that he now has a way to communicate to students what they are responsible for knowing and doing. If he weights his grade book to reflect that 100% of the grade will be determined by a student’s ability to demonstrate understanding, he has now removed any doubt of what the grade will really reflect. A second step is to design quality assessments for students that will accurately assess a student’s understanding of specific outcomes. While a selective response test may demonstrate a student’s ability to recognize a key term or concept, it may also reflect a student’s ability to guess. Effective assessments leave no doubt that the student clearly understands the outcome that is being tested. Finally, a third step is to help students determine how they can effectively prepare to demonstrate their understanding. This step is where effective teaching practices and well-designed homework assignments come into the picture.

A pre-test will help the student to see what he or she will have to study, prepare for and work on to accomplish the task of demonstrating his or her understanding of what is required to meet the desired outcomes. Because no two students are the same, it is important for teachers to provide options for students when assigning homework to help them prepare. One homework assignment for everyone will not work. Students will need to be taught how to select the most appropriate assignment for them. For example:

In an English class, a student knows that she is has difficulty demonstrating that she understands the relationships between different authors’ styles and their intended effects on a reader (outcome). The student knows that her teacher will expect her to demonstrate this understanding with a summative exam that includes a selective response test, as well as an extended written response test (quality assessments).

In order to help her prepare, her teacher provides a menu of formative assessments, including homework assignments. Together, the student and teacher determine that the student’s best option is an assignment to read two short stories by two different authors. The student is expected to read the two stories and then complete a Venn diagram comparing the two authors’ styles by selecting the appropriate vocabulary from a word bank and provide a brief narrative explaining the different effect each author’s style had on her as a reader. The student is expected to check the assignment in with the teacher by a predetermined date, so that the teacher can check the work and provide appropriate feedback to help the student correct mistakes and prepare to demonstrate her learning. The assignment is then entered in the grade book as a complete so that the student’s behavior can be tracked, but the weight is a 0.00 and will not be a determining factor in the student’s final grade.

The student is motivated to complete the assignment because she sees a direct relationship of the assignment to what she must do in order to prepare to demonstrate her understanding, and enjoys the benefits of personal communication with her teacher on her individual abilities. Homework now has value that is immeasurable by any amount of points – each assignment now has direct meaning and relevance to the desired outcomes identified by the teacher.

Homework should not go away – as long as it has purpose and meaning for both students and teachers. There is tremendous value in homework, not as a behavior modification tool, but as a real learning tool – to help students determine what they need to practice in order to gain understanding or skills relevant to the desired outcomes. The specifics of how teachers assign and grade homework are up for discussion. As educators responsible for preparing students to be thinkers who are able to demonstrate understandings and accomplish tasks, we can all agree that the best way to do so is by motivating students to understand what they are working toward.

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Find Remedy For Homework Problems

[...] AllThingsPLC » Blog Archive » Should Homework Be Graded? [...]

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David G

Thanks for this lucid, thoughtful analysis of the concept of homework. I agree with all of your points, really. I want you to consider an additional point. I feel that there's lots of great and excellent ideas presented by researchers (people not presently teaching) that would indeed improve one's practice but for not passing a final test--the test of practicality.

I did like your last 2 scenarios, they started to make your ideas more practical. As a science teacher my day is already overflowing--there's not time to do all that could be done and would improve my students learning and increase the percent of students who achieved my expectations. I am a believer in Covey's principle of pro-activity. Do you feel time spent doing this would pay off big enough to compensate for the other important things that a teacher would have to give up to find time for this detailed HW analysis?

Of course it depends on what one gives up--mainly I'm giving this point to emphasize that, providing great ideas to teachers is important; further impact is achieved when serious consideration is given to what has been called 'the daily grind' of teaching. Thanks for your leadership.


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The curriculum and assessment model my former school district uses bases its assessment work on the premise you discuss in your post. Homework has been one of those topics which is the most controversial in that district - and maybe most districts? It is the question you pose of trying to create the intrinsic motivation within students so they will see the value in completing the work teachers give to them.

I would contend it is the approach of the teacher which leaves the students either wanting to do the homework or just being compliant - which seems to be more the case these days. It sounds as if I am blaming teachers for students not doing their homework - and I guess I am in a way. When I was in the classroom not long ago I only gave homework I truly believed would take learning to another level. The assessment itself was to increase the skill or the knowledge of the student while at the same time I was able to diagnose which concepts and/or which students required additional support. But back to the contention that it is the approach of teachers. Do teachers have what students will learn that day on the board? Do teachers provide the relevancy to students each day for what they will be learning? Do they discuss any possible homework as a learning opportunity - it is in the tone and the philosophical belief students hear allowing them to "buy into" the homework. And that is whether you grade it or don't grade it. Requiring only specific homework shows students the importance of the content they are learning. This is what I mean about the approach or even the delivery of the message that is so important. If students are involved, self-assessing and celebrating learning continually and consistently with specific and timely feedback from the teacher I content homework completion will increase, but so will student learning as result.

Homework should not be drudgery, however it has become that. Math classrooms have at least a page or two of problems to complete nightly - whether the student requires additional practice and rehearsal.... Giving homework as "busy work" is not good practice and reduces motivation. The example of the project Eaker no longer had students doing is a prime example - how do you know the student themselves actually learned the material? Relevant and effective formative assessment done within the classroom where teachers can monitor students' learning should replace homework in my opinion.

It is the idea of teaching the essential topics and skills that we cannot give up that makes it so difficult to get through a curriculum. An example would be a teacher in the district I am leaving in a well - her grade level as 12 benchmarks in Math they must master before they exit the 3rd grade. This leaves little time for literacy instruction - and forget about quality Science or Social Studies instruction. The "power standards" are an example of what a curriculum should look like - not a summary of the national content standards.

Homework is one of those old-school ideas whose usefulness and/or effectiveness may have run its course - but teachers are set on giving homework, then administrators MUST monitor the quality of that homework and insist on it being an extension of the classroom only.

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