Grading policy requirements a waste of time

Homework, attendance, and tests: the three heads of the grading beast.These first two class requirements seem artificial compared to actual testing, in that a student must jump these hoops in addition to proving his or her mastery of the subject.
The rationale for homework is threefold: 1) Homework as a tool to learn the material; 2) Homework as an indicator of effort; 3) Homework assigned to teach the process of diligence and deadlines. Homework, of course, is a vague term, but generally speaking it involves problem sets, workbook exercises and other short answer assignments.
Many teachers have said that they assign homework to force students to learn the material. Let me offer another possible option.
Perhaps the most innovative grading scheme that I experienced in my schooling thus far came from my high school science teacher. He gave credit for all the homework in a chapter, whether it was turned in or not — only if the student received an A grade on the chapter test.
This system created interesting results, the most important being that students who were certain they knew the material were not asked to waste their time, but students who had doubts about their mastery usually chose to do the assignments.
Were all classes like this, students would have more time free, some of which could be used to study material that they haven’t mastered.
Marvin Marshak, a physics teacher and former associate dean for the Institute of Technology, said he sees nothing wrong with this system, assuming the test accurately measures the knowledge.
“If they’ve learned it,” Marshak said, “then presumably it isn’t necessary to do the homework.”
Therefore, the test must sample both the main concepts and some of the subtleties that one must dig deeper to learn. Otherwise, one could presumably skim over the material.
“Grades are correlated, but not perfectly, with what you learned in class,” said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education.
Marshak pointed out that for many people mastery may be achieved only through repetition, which has an unquestioned role in the retention of information. And, he adds, certain assignments are, by their nature, not busywork. “There are obviously assignments that in and of themselves help you learn something,” he said. “There’s no way you can learn to write a paper by sitting in class.”
Another reason for homework: to help students learn the important skill of completing tasks on deadline. This measure of diligence can then be used in grading, to reflect whether a student completed the course work on time and properly. But there are other places, namely work itself, to learn to turn things in on time. Rather than doing school homework, a student could advance his or her career by working on more practical projects.
Marshak warns potential truants that students who skip class and plan on doing homework for other classes often don’t actually do work during the extra time.
“Of all the students I have seen, the ones who (skip) classes tend not to do well,” he said. “In the end they often wind up playing video games or sitting in the coffee house.”
Another questionable grading policy is that of required attendance. This may be important for a class that requires a high degree of participation from class members, but not necessarily in a lecture setting.
Again, I would argue, professors should allow students to retain control of their education and not presume their particular class is more important than certain other responsibilities and commitments.
That is not to say that professors should be required to reschedule quizzes or provide absent students with copies of their lecture notes. The opportunity to miss class comes with a responsibility to avoid important class dates and to learn the missed material.
I have taken several classes in which the professor offers little new information, basing most of the information on the textbook. In other classes, I borrowed lecture notes from a classmate, which I digested much quicker than the professor’s in-class presentation.
For some classes, the lecture notes can be bought from a copy center and are complete and succinct overviews of the lecture. It makes me wonder why one would attend that class at all, rather than treating it like an independent study class.
But there are reasons to attend certain classes. These can include an interesting professor who gives energetic lectures, information that is visual or hands-on, or participatory classes, where there is class discussion that is informative and goes in new directions.
“If I am teaching a large class, I still try to make it interactive,” Marshak said. “There’s plenty of educational research that will tell you a lecture class that has no interaction at all is not very effective.”
In conclusion, I would ask professors to review their homework and attendance policies and ask themselves the purpose of each.
And rather than forcing students through mandatory attendance to attend a lecture with little new information, professors should encourage students to come by creating interesting, participatory presentations.
In this way students can act as educational consumers, making their own decisions about how to spend their precious time.
Brian Close is a Daily Staff Reporter