Students’ Self-Reporting of Homework Times Wildly Inaccurate, 2016 Study Finds

Vol. 16 No. 1

PSN eletter vol15 no1 homework

There’s been a lot of chatter about the efficacy of homework lately, even here on The Source. Some folks find fault with the quality of homework given, and others with the quantity.

Most of the studies on which these judgments are based consist of students self-reporting and estimating how many hours they spend on homework. One 2014 study that used self-reported data, for example, found that high school students had about 3.5 hours of weekly homework assigned per subject, resulting in a possible 17.5 hours of weekly homework to be completed outside of class.

However, a study published in the June 2016 edition of the Journal of Psychology has evidence that previous reports and suggestions based on student estimations of homework time could be wildly inaccurate. If verified, this finding could possibly invalidate the last decade’s worth of homework efficacy studies.

Three researchers at the University of California (Santa Barbara campus) decided to perform yet another study on the impact homework had on student performance as measured by traditional grading. However, this team asked students to use a Smartpen—a writing device that can record and timestamp pen strokes on lined paper—for their homework assignments.

In this way, they could measure not only the total time required to complete all written assignments, but even discover how much of the homework had been completed in the day before the due date, chronicling the successes (or failures) of the chronic procrastinator.

Their findings were astonishing, if initially obvious. For example, those who completed their assignments within the 24-hour period prior to the deadline (according to the Smartpen’s timestamps) tended to earn lower grades than their peers who used the whole assignment period. This correlation seems to confirm a well-known truism that procrastination doesn’t pay off at school.

Another seemingly obvious discovery was that the amount of time spent on homework—based on the Smartpen’s timestamped calculations—was positively correlated with better grades. So, more time spent on outside practice in the form of homework means that a student is better able to perform the same tasks on a test—makes sense!

The remarkable part of this study was how the students’ own self-reported time spent on homework was in no way correlated with higher test grades. When the researchers looked more closely at their reports, they found that 88% of students had overreported the time spent on their homework assignments, when compared with the “real” time captured by the Smartpens.

If this study had relied on the traditional self-reported data provided by students in regard to their time spend on assignments, then it would have found no correlation between homework and grades. The quantifiable data provided by the Smartpen timestamps, however, did show a positive association between the two.

The end result of this study, then, isn’t necessarily on whether homework is or is not useful within the classroom. Rather, this study serves to shed doubt on previous homework studies, bringing into question the foundational data on which their conclusions were reached.

But anecdotal data is still useful! How has your school seen homework impact the learning of its students? Let us know in the comment section below.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Private School News Vol. 12 No. 8 Homework: What It Is and What It Could Be
The Source for Academic Leadership
Vol. 9 No. 3 The Homework Debate

Additional ISM resources for Gold members:
I&P Vol. 41 No. 11 The Rhetoric of Rigor II: Stress, Schedules, and Fun
Vol. 39 No. 12 The Rhetoric of Rigor

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