Grading Homework for Accuracy or Completion? Yes!

  • Grading Homework for Accuracy or Completion? Yes!

    By Susan Zielinski, posted August 15, 2016 —

    I was inspired when I read D. Bruce Jackson’s “homework sandwich” article in MT (Jackson 2014). He wrote, “Given two slices of bread—a problem and the answer—students fill in the fixings: their own mathematics reasoning.” This system is a brilliant solution to the common dilemma of how to grade homework: for completion or accuracy.


    Neither method alone gives students incentive to revisit problems they missed on the first attempt, which is exactly what they need to do. The sandwich addresses this beautifully, in the end grading for both completion and accuracy. First, students self-grade their homework, checking their work against solutions in the back of the book or elsewhere, marking each problem correct or not-yet-correct. In my classes, students submit their grade online along with problems on which they are stuck. They then have a week to ask questions, come to receive extra help, correct their work, and resubmit their work for a new grade of up to 100 percent, which replaces the old grade. On any evening, students might be working on brand-new homework as well as revising old assignments. This distributed practice is great for learning (Grote 1995).

    As with any system, it’s not perfect. First, I don’t know if students are completely truthful in self-grading. Random spot-checking helps ensure honesty. (I let the roll of a die decide whose homework to collect.) A bigger issue is that because students have solutions to the problems, they can just write them down without thinking. To combat this, I call on students who claimed success on a problem to present it to others. Student feedback and my experience confirm that they are mostly honest and accurate in self-grading; there’s less reason to fudge the numbers when they have a week to make it up.

    The beauty is that I am not assessing their work—they are. This is not my learning—it’s theirs! They determine iwhether they need to do more work by assessing their own understanding. This system enhances their sense of responsibility, rewards them for persistence, and encourages a growth mindset. Although it’s more work for me than just recording a grade once (or not grading homework at all), it’s worth it. In the next post, I’ll talk about how I collect daily grades and feedback online.

    Do you have an effective homework system you’d like to share? 


    Grote, Michael G. 1995. Distributed Versus Massed Practice in High School Physics. School Science and Mathematics 95 (2): 97–101.

    Jackson, D. Bruce. 2014. “Algebra Homework: A Sandwich!” Mathematics Teacher 107 (7): 528–33.

    2016_08_15_ZielinskiAuPicSusan Zielinski,, teaches mathematics at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. She is currently a doctoral student at Northeastern University, researching collaboration and power sharing in the classroom, algebraic misconceptions, and engaging assessments. Before her teaching career, she served in the Air Force, worked as an industrial engineer, and homeschooled her children. In her free time, she loves to travel, spend time in the woods, and ballroom dance.

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