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December 1998

When Parents
Mark Homework

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This parent involvement study shows that students do better when parents mark their homework ... and both the children and their families enjoyed the experience.

By Laurie Mitchell

The Grade 5/6 kids at Glen Dhu Public School in Whitby are spending their math lesson wrapping a present – that is, after they figure out how many square centimetres of wrapping paper they need. Then, they will ask another group to measure the wrapping paper for them to find out if their calculations were correct.

Later on at home, they will be applying their understanding of measurement on a follow-up homework sheet and asking their parents to check their work. Hoping to find an effective way to include parents directly in the new Ontario curriculum, I invited them to mark homework such as this for an entire unit.

Parents responded enthusiastically to the idea of marking their children’s homework and shared my interest in the outcome. To see if we could measure the effect of parental involvement, the parents agreed to alternate homework marking on consecutive units. In this way, all of the parents became involved in marking homework during this research project.

The Grade 6 math measurement strand was chosen for our first project and homework sheets that would demonstrate an understanding of the Ontario curriculum’s measurement expectations were designed. These expectations were stated clearly at the top of each page and the homework sheets had matching answer sheets for parents, complete with a marking scheme.


All students took part in the same lessons in class and were assigned identical homework sheets to complete within one week. However, the class was divided into two groups of roughly equivalent ability levels and the answer sheets were provided only to one group’s parents.

The processing of the homework and answer sheets prompted immediate, and in some cases unexpected, correspondence from the parents. I started to receive notes describing the difficulties and successes that the parents were experiencing at home.

Some parents asked for their children to be given extra help for specific questions. Others requested more challenging work. A few parents asked for assistance in strengthening their own understanding and one – well, I suppose there had to be one – found a mistake on one of my homework sheets.

I also received many anecdotal reports from parents who shared with me some information about how they were doing at home, how much time they were spending together, how much assistance their children required, and other useful information.

Some parents expressed concerns, for example, "My child is overwhelmed by #2," and, "We can’t go over this unit too lightly!"

These observations helped increase my understanding of the students’ strengths and weaknesses and gave me an opportunity to respond to their individual needs. I asked myself, "What if the parents hadn’t been comfortable communicating their concerns?" Who knows how long it may have taken me to find these insecurities without the parents’ observations? The flow of questions, comments and responses between home and school created a genuine partnership in which we were united by our goal of trying to help each student gain mastery over the unit’s expectations.


At the end of the unit, after collecting homework sheets from all students, both groups were given a test on the unit. (However, because of the nature of this research project, the marks were not recorded for report cards.) Not surprisingly, the test results confirmed my hypothesis. The group whose parents had marked their homework had higher marks on average than the other group.

To re-test this hypothesis, check for balanced abilities in the two groups and offer all parents the same opportunity for interaction, the experiment was repeated on a new unit with answer sheets being provided only to the opposite group’s parents. This unit was also a math strand – number sense and numeration. I believe, though, that this methodology could be instituted in other subject areas.

Once again, on the follow-up test at the end of the new unit, the students whose parents had been invited to mark their homework had better results. These results were more gratifying because this was the same group of students whose average had been lower on the first unit’s test. In fact, on a total of four repetitions of this method, the parent-involved group’s marks were consistently higher than the other group’s marks with an average improvement of 5.8 per cent.

What was happening at home?

Parents were the first ones to see how their children were doing. Here is one parent’s explanation: "I enjoy marking my daughter’s work. It lets me know where she has trouble and I can help her with it. Also, sometimes things that are explained in different ways – my way versus the teacher’s way – helps kids to grasp ideas better."


Not all parents tutored their children, but clearly most became generally more involved in the unit of study. This could have, in turn, prompted a greater effort or a higher sense of responsibility, importance or pride in the students.

During a subsequent discussion about the experiment, students offered enthusiastic reports of parents spending time helping them and sharing their experiences, insights and recollections.

How did the parents respond to the experiment?

On a questionnaire sent home at the conclusion of the research project, parents indicated that they liked to be informed of the specific Ontario curriculum expectations that their children were fulfilling, that they felt the homework assignments made them more aware of their children’s progress and that they found it useful to have an answer sheet.

The majority of parents were enthusiastic about the unit and about helping their children. Karin Kennedy, a Grade 5 parent, said, "I believe we both benefited from the experience. We look forward to the next assignment."

By the end of the study, I had collected a bank of parent comments. After re-reading them, I decided on three improvements that I would like to incorporate if I were to invite structured involvement of parents in the future. I would like to integrate parents’ suggestions into my ongoing classroom lessons; I would make each assignment short, focusing on the essential concepts; and I would develop a response and self-evaluation sheet for each student. The parents had not only contributed to their children’s success in the units we completed, but had also contributed to my effectiveness in teaching future units.


The increase in communication between home and school and the improved student understanding of the unit’s content were gains that I had anticipated. As the term continued, however, I realized that there had been other subtle advantages of having parents mark the unit’s homework sheet:

  • Throughout the unit, the students’ interest level in the classroom lessons had been outstanding. There had been a surge of support behind the students’ efforts as the parents and I unified our goals.
  • Giving a week to complete and mark the assignment had allowed parents time to work their participation around other family activities. Sending the work and answer sheets home rather than making it necessary for parents to attend the school during the school day suited the needs of the many working parents.
  • Each phase of the experiment began with a phone call home. This became an opportunity to begin to develop rapport with the parents – and, of course, to ensure that the answer sheets fell into the appropriate hands.
  • The return rate on the homework assignments was very high.
  • While some parents will become involved in their children’s homework without being specifically asked, giving parents an answer sheet and collecting the students’ marked work had been successful in drawing all parents into the classroom without challenging any parent’s ability level.
  • When specific curriculum expectations are identified on the homework sheets and marked by parents, the parents share in the formulation of evidence for their children’s report card, reducing the possibility of a report card "surprise."
  • Creating the homework sheets was time-consuming. However, these sheets ensured that each expectation would be addressed. With this in place, I had greater flexibility in creating lesson plans that could focus on the enhancement of student comprehension, applications, problem-solving, group work, etc.

Parents are a powerful resource for teachers. If communication between home and school is strong, then the parents’ and teachers’ separate efforts toward educating and guiding children can work in harmony. This review is presented, not to recommend that my methodology necessarily be adopted, but to encourage other teachers, students and parents to work together and enjoy their synergy.

Laurie Mitchell is a graduate student at the Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto. She can be reached at She thanks Cathy Brown, David Werry and the Grade 5/6 families of the Durham board’s Glen Dhu Public School, and Dr. Janette Pelletier of the Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto, for her guidance.