If you asked my students, they would tell you assignments are a punishment. They are The Man holding them down. They are pointless. They boring. They are a waste of their precious time. And grades? Grades are just to graduate with, right?
This might seem obvious to some, but school is about learning. I teach so that my students will learn. How are you supposed to gage that learning? Assessments. Assessments is a big, scary word to my kids. It means test and boring. However, that's not what assessments really are.
Assessments come in two forms, formative and summative. Formative assessments are to judge the learning students are gaining along the way. Summative assessments are to show how well students have mastered a skill or unit for the "final" time. Worksheets, daily work, reading questions, quizzes, rough drafts - these are all formative assessments. Summative assessments are tests, projects and final drafts of writing pieces.
See? Assignments are not to punish students. There's actually a reason beyond "because I said so". We just don't always spell it out completely to our students. Assignments are to see what students have learned. More and more, as students are strapped in by standardized tests, the goal of assignments turns from checking knowledge to getting it right. My students are sometimes so focused on getting things right that they won't write anything down until I confirm that their answer is correct. Some of them won't even hazard a guess before asking me the right answer.
This is what happens when the assignment, no matter what level of assessment it's meant to be, is decided before the curriculum. When I make a summative assessment, I don't even make it until I've taught the entire unit. The idea of making an assessment and then a unit is wrong, but it's what's going on across our country.