Is Homework Really Necessary?

 ADHD Weekly 2016-10-13

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For your students with ADHD, especially those with difficulties in organizing, homework can be a source of anxiety, stress, and tears. It’s one of the main reasons for parents to have frequent contact with their children’s teachers.

But is homework really necessary? Does it benefit students, especially those in elementary school?

There currently are no clear answers. While researchers and educators continue to debate whether homework improves student learning and academic achievement, many parents are concerned about the amount of homework their children have to complete. Homework can overburden their students, causing angst at home and reduce the amount of time spent with family or doing extracurricular activities.

Researchers at Duke University, led by Harris Cooper, PhD, conducted a meta-analysis of studies examining if homework increases student achievement.

“The homework question is best answered by comparing students assigned homework with students assigned no homework who are similar in other ways,” Dr. Cooper writes in the analysis. “The results of such studies suggest that homework can improve students’ scores on the class tests that come at the end of a topic. Across five studies, the average student who did homework had a higher unit test score than the students not doing homework.”

In the other studies the researchers examined, they didn’t see that homework had a significant impact for students younger than high school aged.

“However, 35 less rigorous (correlational) studies suggest little or no relationship between homework and achievement for elementary school students,” Dr. Cooper writes. “The average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement was substantial for secondary school students, but for elementary school students, it hovered around no relationship at all.”

Dr. Cooper suggests younger children may have less developed study habits and may be less skilled at tuning out distractions at home. He also says younger students struggling in school may take more time to complete homework because the assignments are already more difficult for them. For your students affected by ADHD and co-occurring learning disabilities, this may hold especially true.

Youki Terada, senior associate and research curator for Edutopia, summarizes current research on homework:

  • Research has shown substantial benefits of homework at the high school level, decreased benefits for middle school students, and only a little benefit for elementary school students.
  • Homework may have academic benefits, but the time spent doing homework can cut into important personal and family time.
  • If students are given too much homework, it can actually result in poor performance.
  • A student’s ability to complete homework may depend on factors that are outside the student’s control.
  • Rather than strive to eliminate homework, assignments need to be authentic, meaningful, and engaging.

A recent study examined what helps students affected by ADHD and what doesn’t help to improve their homework performance. The study found that stimulant medication does not improve homework performance, but teaching parents new ways to help their children address homework struggles can be effective. These techniques include homework-focused behavioral parent training and a daily report card, which is a communication tool between parents and teachers. The study’s lead authors direct parents and educators to the free resources from the Center for Children and Families.

For more information on managing homework:

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