Assessment: The Problem with Penalties

The practice of using penalties as a way to get students to do their work or punish them when they don’t is something that has been debated both way in many of my classes. Do we give late marks? Should we assign zeros? Should we assign homework and how do we assess it? These questions deserve consideration and I know people have a lot to say either way. Teachers and non-teachers seem to take an interest and voice opinions on this subject.

Myron Dueck wrote an interesting article on the problems he sees with penalties and I find myself agreeing with his points. Dueck devises what he calls “the CARE guidelines” for penalties to positively influence behaviour (44). CARE stands for care about penalty, aim aligned to penalty, reduction of undesirable behaviour, and empowerment through informed decision making. Because these guidelines aren’t met when grading homework or using punishment to encourage effort, Dueck says that traditional penalties aren’t effective.

An important part of why I agree that grading homework isn’t good assessment, is because homework is the practice and so summative evaluation of it doesn’t give students the ability to show their improvement fairly. It can also be a practice that perpetuates inequality based on the socio-economic status and home life of students. Not all students have home environments that allow them to do their best work, so it is not particularly effective to grade homework.

It also becomes clear that punishment doesn’t encourage increased effort or student empowerment. Students don’t need to be punished when they don’t do their work or don’t try their best. They need more intrinsic motivations to make them want to do the work. They need to have their personal interests drawn into their studies. Students need to be responsible for and included in their learning. We need to understand what makes students not want to do their work and find ways to engage them, not push them away.

Dueck, Myron. “The Problem with Penalties.” Educational Leadership March 2014: 44-49. Print.

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