Does Homework Help Test Scores

Researchers who looked at data from more than 18,000 10th-graders found there was little correlation between the time students spent doing homework and better grades in math and science courses. But, according to a study on the research, they did find a positive relationship between standardized test performance and the amount of time spent on homework.

The study, called ”When Is Homework Worth the Time?: Evaluating the Association Between Homework and Achievement in High School Science and Math,” was conducted by Adam Maltese, assistant professor of science education at the Indiana University School of Education; Robert H. Tai, associate professor of science education at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and Xitao Fan, dean of education at the University of Macau.

According to a news release by Indiana University, the researchers looked at survey and transcript data from the students in an effort to explain their academic performance and concluded that despite earlier research to the contrary, homework time did not correlate to the final course grade that students received in math and science classes.

The value of homework has been the subject of various research studies over the years, yet there is still no conclusive evidence that it makes a big difference in helping students improve achievement. The most often-cited studies are those that conclude that there is virtually no evidence that it helps in elementary school but some evidence that it does improve academic performance in later grades. Yet this newest study looked at 10th graders and found no correlation.

The study did, however, find a positive association between time spent on homework and student scores on standardized tests. It doesn’t directly conclude that the homework actually affected the test scores, but the university release quotes Maltese as saying that “if students are spending more time on homework, they’re getting exposed to the types of questions and the procedures for answering questions that are not so different from standardized tests.”

That, of course, would depend on the kind of homework students receive. Maltese is further quoted as saying, “”We’re not trying to say that all homework is bad. It’s expected that students are going to do homework. This is more of an argument that it should be quality over quantity. So in math, rather than doing the same types of problems over and over again, maybe it should involve having students analyze new types of problems or data. In science, maybe the students should write concept summaries instead of just reading a chapter and answering the questions at the end.”

The co-authors also recommend that education policymakers better evaluate homework — the kinds of assignments that are most useful and the time required to make the work effective.

 You may also be interested in this: 3 Healthy Guidelines for Homework

Polls show that American public high school teachers assign their students an average of 3.5 hours of homework a day. According to a recent study from the University of Oviedo in Spain, that’s far too much.

While doing some homework does indeed lead to higher test performance, the researchers found the benefits to hitting the books peak at about an hour a day. In surveying the homework habits of 7,725 adolescents, this study suggests that for students who average more than 100 minutes a day on homework, test scores start to decline. The relationship between spending time on homework and scoring well on a test is not linear, but curved.

This study builds upon previous research that suggests spending too much time on homework leads to higher stress, health problems and even social alienation. Which, paradoxically, means the most studious of students are in fact engaging in behavior that is counterproductive to doing well in school. 

Because the adolescents surveyed in the new study were only tested once, the researchers point out that their results only indicate the correlation between test scores and homework, not necessarily causation. Co-author Javier Suarez-Alvarez thinks the most important findings have less to do with the amount of homework than with how that homework is done.

From Education Week:

Students who did homework more frequently – i.e., every day – tended to do better on the test than those who did it less frequently, the researchers found. And even more important was how much help students received on their homework – those who did it on their own preformed better than those who had parental involvement. (The study controlled for factors such as gender and socioeconomic status.)

“Once individual effort and autonomous working is considered, the time spent [on homework] becomes irrelevant,” Suarez-Alvarez says. After they get their daily hour of homework in, maybe students should just throw the rest of it to the dog.  

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