Homework and Testing. Book Study Expert Commentary for Chapters 19 and 24 (Week 10)

Published on: November 2, 2015

Filled Under: Beyond The Pages, Books, Guest Speakers

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This week we are discussing Chapter 19: The Trouble with Testing and Chapter 24 The Homework Debate. Scott Wiley will provide insight and lead our discussion this week. Just joining us? Get all the book study details HERE.


Scott Wiley

Chapters 19 and 24 bring up two issues that I wouldn’t think would arise in early childhood—testing and homework. I know that some 5-year-olds are sitting in a room, listening to instructions being read and coloring in small circles with No. 2 pencils. I’ve read about (and seen) kindergartners taking home pages of homework at night (usually worksheets that need to be filled in). These issues are real for some of our youngest students; and these issues are problems for other grades, too.

Testing is a popular word among education reformers today. Standardized testing is touted as the “best way” to determine effective learning. It’s objective, it’s measurable, it’s easy to do. But it doesn’t really tell us much.

At best, a test only shows a snapshot of the student at that moment in time. If the test had been on a different day or a different time of day, if the student had a different start to his day or the room had been different – if any of these things had been different, the results may have been different. If a test is only a snapshot, how can real decisions and conclusions be extrapolated from it?

Observations and real world work can show much more about a student’s progress. Once, in a first grade class, we had a writing assessment. Students wrote in response to a prompt (after reading a book together). As the group of teachers evaluated the assessments, we read the work of one of my students. He was rated low on his writing. But I wanted to say, “Yes, compared to other students’ writing, his is a low performance. But you should have seen where he started.” At the beginning of the year, this student drew pictures and wrote a few letters in his journal. Now he was writing complete sentences, with most of the letters for each word. He may have written only 2-3 sentences, but they were meaningful, on topic, and had multiple words. He was seriously progressing in his writing.

Based on the one writing assignment, this student was under-performing. But in reviewing his past several weeks of writing, it was obvious that he was growing in his writing ability. Standardized testing gives one point of reference. Looking at work over time, conferencing with students, constantly reviewing what students are doing, and providing assistance as needed, are more effective ways to evaluate a student and his progress.

In thinking about testing, we should ask WHY? Why are we giving this test? What do we hope to learn or accomplish? And then we should look for ways to accomplish that task with less anxiety and more developmentally appropriate means. The trouble is, these types of assessments take more time and are less “tidy” than standardized testing.

Regarding homework, we should also ask WHY? What is the purpose of giving homework? As Rae Pica states, “The research clearly shows no correlation between academic achievement and homework in elementary school.”

In many cases, homework is given for practice or mastery. However, homework can be a determent to achievement. Kids stop reading for pleasure because they associate reading with work and not with enjoyment. Homework can increase stress, tantrums, and physical ailments. And practice, if not done correctly, will not help students improve their skills.

At my last school, I found homework was not an effective (or efficient) method. Many kids had little support at home to get homework done. I spent time chasing down work or reminding kids of it. I asked myself why I was assigning it and chose more effective ways to meet those goals. I encouraged kids to read every night and helped them find books to take home and read. Did all of them read each night? No. But they wouldn’t have done homework either.

As you are thinking about homework and testing, especially in younger grades, consider these questions:

  • Why am I doing this? What do I want to accomplish? What is the most effective way to get to that goal?
  • How can I use authentic ways to assess what children know and what they need to know?
  • How can we practice skills in fun ways that create lasting learning?
  • What ways can I use to encourage children to continue learning at home? How can I encourage them to follow their own interests in meaningful ways?

R. Scott Wiley
Blog: Brick by Brick http://scottsbricks.blogspot.com/
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Please share/retweet this post! Let us know that you’re participating in this study. We’d love to hear from you about your thoughts regarding Chapters 19 and 24  and about the commentary Scott has provided. Your voice matters – participate in the dialogue and share your ideas here! (Comment below) If you’ve chosen to blog about what you’ve read on your own site, link back and share your post with us here. Perhaps you have a burning question about something that you read in one of these chapters… we have a feature for that – Ask The Author! That’s right, Rae Pica will be available throughout this live study to answer your questions. #AskAuthor

What to read next: Chapter 20 Failure Is An Option and Chapter 26 No More Good Job (11/9/15).

*If you’re a MN participant seeking training hours, please visit this link to access to requirements.

71 Responses to Homework and Testing. Book Study Expert Commentary for Chapters 19 and 24 (Week 10)

  1. Jessica Kabogoza says:

    Right now my children are 5 and 2. My daughter will start kindergarten this fall. I’m excited, nervous, a little sad, somewhat happy, etc. My education experience was adequate. I’m praying that my daughters and sons are phenomenal. With that said, how do you go about helping them balance being a kid and slowly, year after year, accepting more responsibility in academics? Do you help to prep your children for standardized testing so they aren’t marginalized? Do you just let it be and let the chips fall where they may so you have more time to play outside? I think they’re all hard, “balancing act” questions without a concrete right answer. Each family is different, each child unique in their gifting, and each learning and growing at their own rate. While I do think that some reform needs to be made to the way a school system judges an individual child’s intelligence level, it is incredibly important that each parent truly knows their child and helps them uniquely become who they are.

  2. Terri VanHoudt says:

    This really doesn’t really have a lot to do with my Family Daycare. I do not do Observations or Assessments! After 18 going on 19 years of doing daycare and being a mother of 2, grandmother of 6, i kind of know what is right or not. No, i am not saying i am a expert but i have seen lots of stuff. I am not a trained professional and do not think i am qualified to use a Assessment program that i read through for 20 min and now am going to use. Yes, i do observations, but ones that i use my sense of right and wrong. I have a very good open communication with All of my parents and am not afraid to tell them in a friendly manner if something is off. I have approached parents with the attitude of questions to let them think they are in charge. I will suggest contacting the school for assessment.
    Standardized testing is a joke. So many kids just rush through them with out any real consideration for the questions. They just color in circles just to get done. Some kids test well and some do not. My youngest son could take the test and pass them with flying colors, but did not do the home work. His attitude was should i do the home work when i can pass the test and prove i know the stuff. Which is true, He is proving himself that he has mastered the skill without doing the homework.
    If kids didn’t learn in different ways, we wouldn’t have a need for the Alternative schools.

  3. Nallely says:

    While it is true that the tests do not make much sense, since at the time that you perform a test and there are children who come out of the level of knowledge, you must take into account or know the problems for which the child and family can be happening, I agree that the tests are instantaneous and that the result does not mean that the child has not learned. Each child is different and at the same time they have different times to learn things, each one has their own styles and with this we can find ways to evaluate them. On the subject of homework for children I strongly disagree that children should enjoy their childhood stage like playing, jumping, exploring. Experiencing, sharing and spending time with their parents or friends, spending time at school is enough for them not to take homework to their homes, plus parents can teach them fun things through the game with this they spend time with their children. For the only thing that at their age the children worry is to play and have fun with everything they find in their path.

  4. Anna Patnode says:

    Week 10 – 8/1/18
    Reading – Chapters 19 and 24
    These chapters on testing and homework are straightforward and clear on what the research shows. I have always had an aversion to testing, especially standardized tests, so none of this information is shocking. The only shocking part is that so many administrators and teachers have allowed this pattern to continue and evolve into the useless testing we see happening today. My very bright, clever, and thoughtful 3rd graded was having a fantastic year, learning lots and showing what she bows on all her tests/assessments. There was never any point of concern but when in came around to the end of be year standardized tests she was a nervous wreck, I believe this was in large part to how nervous her fabulous teacher was for her students. I reassured my daughter in my believes of standardized tests and tried to calm her nerves that way but I was so sad and disheartened about the whole situation. I’d like to know how some of Rae’s suggestions about testing actually affect the teachers/schools etc. How does one best influence the system with out film on boycott?
    As far as homework, I teach preschool and homework hasn’t ever even crossed my mind. I have had a few parents seek “work” for the children and have just shared my view of busy work and encouraged them to let their kids lead. I feel this is the best way with little ones versus forcing worksheets on 3 and 4 year olds. This year I have decided to encourage parents to engage in our weekly/monthly themes by providing “learning opportunities” and reading suggestions for at home. I hope this new method with appease those who want more but also encourage those who are disengaged to interact more intentionally with their little ones.

  5. Liz says:

    As educators and caregivers we maybe should focus on all the tools in our toolbox. Homework and tests will probably never go away, but maybe the emphasis on them can decrease as we use other methods to ensure learning.

  6. Laura Borchardt says:

    Testing at a young age is very ineffective in assessing a child’s knowledge. There are so many factors that go into them giving “correct” answers. They need to have incentive to give the right answer and even when they are older that incentive is usually unnecessary stress. I have seen many older students in the school I work in with anxiety about those standardized tests. I am glad that isn’t a thing with preschoolers. I hope it will never come to that. With our preschoolers we have an evaluation system where we observe them through play and write down what we see. We take pictures and collect their work if necessary. This helps us plan according to their strengths and weaknesses. Homework at a young age only makes sense if it is trying to get the parents involved in what is being taught at school or it strengthens the bond somehow but not as a tool for assessment of the child. We do not give any homework to preschoolers of course.

  7. DeAnna Stowe says:

    All children learn at different levels. When a teacher places a test in front of a child, that child is expected to be educated enough to understand what is placed in front of them. Did we forget that all children learn at different levels? The requirements of a standard test across the board will not benefit a child who isn’t quite there just yet. I believe that testing shouldn’t start to take place till middle school and even then i think it should be according to their academic needs. I also think that this should be the time they start to introduce homework. I think homework should be limited to only an hour. Children start to become overwhelmed with overloaded homework which creates several unwanted behaviors for the child/parent who is trying to help. The child eventually gives up in frustration. That same child starts to hate school. School should be fun and filled with many learning opportunities. Why would we want our children to hate school?

  8. Brittany says:

    Testing: I wish that school funding was not so determined by these tests because I have heard from educators and teachers that they are not the best results of the whole child. Also they are wasting so much time preparing the children for the tests which they would like to use for other learning.
    Homework: Now do you see any child playing outside once they are older? NO, they are so busy trying to finish their homework before evening activities or they have to stay up late after the evening activate. Children have to miss out sometimes miss out on the activity that brings them joy for this not proven idea of homework. Let’s allow children to have a break from school so they are ready for it the next day.

  9. Sherie Melchert says:

    I feel there is way too much test taking and preparation for test taking in school. They could be using this valuable time in other ways of learning. Children who are good at test taking are usually the ones who are good at memorizing or good at guessing at multiple choice.. Also homework should be able to be done at school so children can have time to distress and enjoy their interests and family time.

  10. Jill N. Walker says:

    I believe that tests are not a good measure of what children understand. A test could have been given on a rough day and the results are then used a benchmark for the time period. Children and parents also stress out about tests and so test do not show the process made by the child. I liked the statement of the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Homework only makes children and parents stress out. Sometimes parents are unable to help children in the ways that the schools expect the children to learn. I had this problem when my son was learning how to multiply double digit numbers. My way was considered the old fashioned way of doing math! I believe children also need downtime to recharge for the next day. Downtime is a way to encounter nature and find likes and dislikes!

  11. Karen says:

    There is trouble with testing. A girl was having a lot of homework, she would be up late trying to get it done. Come to find out their whole class time was spent taking practice tests and test prep to get ready for some standardized test so their school would score high in the state. Kids suffer so that the school scores will look good – sad!!

  12. Judy Nelson says:

    In chapter 19 and 24 we read about two very debated subjects. I found the thoughts of the author and commentator to be very insightful. After reading the chapters and the commentary I can help but think the rise in mental illness in children may be linked to the stress our education has placed on children. Although there may not be a link I think this is a possibility with the additional stress constant testing puts on children. This is not to overlook the stress excessive homework could also be adding to an already stressed generation of children.

  13. T. Enter says:

    After reading 19 &24, I have always struggled on the topic to test and homework. I am not a test taker and never have been. The word stresses me out; this was the way that my teacher would either pass or fail me, this was how you measured what I learned. It came down to that, not the classroom chats, not the lessons, but a fill in the bubble sheet. If you do back to the first few chapters you remember that young children vary on when they learn things. The average child walks at 1 year. But in reality that is the medium of the scale, some walk as early as 6 months others well pass a year. When a child learns something in school, some children learn and understand the material taught right away, others make take years before the concept or information makes complete since. When you test children there are some children that are in a disadvantage of others for that factor, not even to mention the child that has anxiety or stress out over the word test. Homework, is something that has always been around. I had homework growing up. However, my home wasn’t in elementary school. I do believe that some homework is a good way to keep the kids accountable and responsible.

  14. Theresa says:

    Standardized testing is pointless. It seems that teachers teach to answer the questions, but it isn’t learning. It isn’t a process. It is like cramming for a test the night before and then two days later you forget everything that you spent 12 hours memorizing. We also want children to want to learn more beyond the walls of the school.

  15. S. Hanson says:

    I don’t really believe in standardized testing. Children aren’t standardized! There are so many variables that standardized tests don’t account for. Some kids just don’t handle tests well. Some have language barriers. Some children may struggle to use computers if given on a computer.

    I also remember being frustrated with homework when in school. We never had much in elementary school thankfully but middle and high school were another story. One teacher told us an hour per night wasn’t unreasonable. If every teacher assigned that much you’d be spending another 6-7 hours after school doing homework. An English teacher wanted all assignments written in pen with no mistakes. If you made a mistake you had to rewrite it- no cross outs. Did we learn anything from that? No.

  16. Shannon Alexander says:

    I like Rae Pica’s point that children are in danger of thinking there is always one right answer to questions or problems. This is the opposite of how I want my childcare kids to do when they come to a question or problem. I want the kids to think creatively and be problem solvers. I’m so thankful for my childcare program, I can help kids build their creativity and learn how to solve problems in different ways. When I taught in a classroom, I wish I would have given less to no homework. Looking back, it created more stress for the kids, families and myself. The time I took to correct homework and reteach concepts based on the homework, was such a waste of time when I could have given the kids and families a break to do family things at home. Kids need unstructured time to use their imagination and learn what to do when they are bored. I have never thought of the idea that kids need to learn the value of relaxation and how this can help manage their stress in other situations. I think reminding parents of “the fact that once a person’s childhood is gone, its gone,” will help them understand why homework is not needed.

  17. G Anderson says:

    I don’t think tests are going away any time soon, but I too don’t believe they are an all exclusive way to see where a child is “at”. I remember test anxiety myself, I still experience this…I think being able to know children in your class and watch them over the course of weeks-months you have a much better picture of what a child knows. I don’t know what the solution is-but since we know that there are many variables in standardized tests…so really what is the point?

  18. Morgan Hinzmann says:

    These chapters just made me angry. Why are policy makes ignoring the research? I had already decided that when I have children they will be “sick” on standardized testing days. They are worthless and do nothing but cause children anxiety and stress. I wish my parents had know what I know now about tests, it would have saved me so many sleepless nights worrying about tests that hold no real value.

  19. Faye says:

    Chapters 19&24
    I agree that there is too much emphasis on test taking in elementary. There is far too much homework given out each night especially with all the other activities kids are involved in. They get stressed out and get anxiety trying to finish getting homework and test taking. KIds will learn better at their own pace.

  20. Cheryl Thomas says:

    Children should not have homework especially the younger ones. homework should be done at school so they can relax and enjoy there time at home.

  21. Lynda Smith says:

    Testing should only need to be done to evaluate how much the child retains after a subject has been completed, before another subject is introduced. A child should have time to do the assignment during class. If the child does not get the assignment done in class, then they would have “homework”

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