In a way, yes, the programming projects in ML seemed like a better measure of performance in that you have to actually figure something out. However, they have two (sort of) disadvantages vs normal homework:
1) you immediately know if you got it right or wrong when you submit, so you can to a lesser extent brute force the correct answer
2) with the exception of maybe the first assignment, they are all "fill in the blank" sort of programming assignments. You basically just have to find the equations they give you in the PDF, translate them directly to Octave, and bam you're done.