Mixed reaction to Merrimack's new homework protocolBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
November 28. 2017 9:00PM
MERRIMACK — Three months after the local school district implemented a new protocol that no longer factors homework into a student’s overall grade, parents are expressing mixed reactions about the change.
“This is not fitting in as well as I had hoped,” Robert Bevill, a parent with four children enrolled in the school system, told the school board. “ … What I am asking is please take the shackles off the teachers — let them go back to counting homework.”
While the district’s homework policy remains the same, the new protocol was implemented after a review of past practice. According to the new protocol, practice homework may still be assigned by teachers, but it will not be a graded assignment, meaning it will not factor into a student’s overall grade for a class.
“Homework is a very important part of a student’s life,” said Assistant Superintendent Mark McLaughlin, stressing that even though homework is no longer included in a student’s grade, the completion of homework is still critical to understanding concepts and improving other scores such as tests and quizzes.
Bevill argues that instead of assigning homework, teachers are now becoming inventive by creating classwork that is being graded instead.
“This, to me, denies teacher autonomy,” maintained Bevill, adding homework grades can help teachers modify lesson plans based on student needs. Homework also helps show competence, provides an academic purpose and promotes student ownership — something students should be given credit for, according to Bevill.
McLaughlin said there are other ways that students can demonstrate their understanding of concepts, thinking and processing, which is really at the heart of what the district is trying to accomplish with its students.
The ultimate goal is for students to be able to demonstrate what they know, added McLaughlin. He acknowledged that there is a natural expectation that grades will likely decrease in the short-term while students become accustomed to the new protocol.
The initiative, however, will help push the district forward, he said, explaining the school board will review the matter once again in January.
“I support not grading homework,” said Rhonda Fleming, who compared the situation to participation awards. With some teachers simply checking to make sure the homework was completed, Fleming said students were unable to identify if they were making mistakes.
Another local parent, Claudia Trethewey, said she is still confused about the homework changes. Earlier this year, she said her ninth-grade daughter’s algebra homework was still being graded and posted onto powerschool even though it was not being counted as part of her overall grade.
This practice helped her daughter understand how well or how poorly she was understanding the new math concepts, said Trethewey, explaining the grades are no longer being posted. Instead, the homework is either marked as completed, missing or late.
“It is really confusing. I think there are just a lot of inconsistencies … I can’t really make heads or tails of what is accurate,” she told the board.
As the district implements the new protocol, it will take time to flesh out those inconsistencies, explained McLaughlin. As the second quarter begins, he is hopeful some of the confusion will subside.
“We can always do better,” he acknowledged.
Still, Bevill said he does like having the Merrimack School District be one of the first in the state to experiment with this new protocol.
“Having homework that counts for something demonstrates your drive to make a difference in life, to succeed and grow,” he said.
Carol Lang of Merrimack says she supports the new protocol, insisting that completed homework does not reflect a student’s mastery of the subject matter.
When the board reviews the change in January, board members said they would like more data on how the new protocol is impacting younger students and those with Individualized Education Plans, or 504 plans, who have learning or attention issues, as well as its impact on student grades and competencies.