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Merrimack to continue new homework protocol this fall

Union Leader Correspondent

June 10. 2018 7:52PM

MERRIMACK — After one year of a new protocol within the school district that no longer factors homework into a student’s overall grade, the school board has decided to continue the initiative next year.

While there is still confusion over the change, along with concerns from some teachers, school officials agreed that the process should progress to determine its effectiveness.

“I would rather, as a district, be willing to forge ahead innately than sit there stagnantly and ignore opportunities that we have for learning, for growth and for realistic assessments,” Cinda Guagliumi, school board member, said last week.

At least one board member, Andy Schneider, said he is still concerned that not all teachers have bought into the program but admits that the new protocol’s success is difficult to gauge in only one year.

While he agrees that it would not be beneficial to return to the practice of grading homework, he questioned whether there could be some modified version to consider.

“It wasn’t clear to me that the trial was done with enough fidelity,” acknowledged Mark McLaughlin, assistant superintendent.

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 still intended to support a student’s learning by providing opportunities for practice, which is designed to support deeper learning that will distinguish and separate academic grades from homework assignments.

However, McLaughlin shared comments from teachers about the new protocol, including statements that students now sense homework is not important, parents believe that homework doesn’t count, students are not completing assignments and students don’t understand that practice will result in mastery of concepts.

“Some of these were a little disappointing for me to read,” he said.

There were also more positive comments from high school teachers about the protocol, including statements about students needing more autonomy and choice over their academic careers, that students are learning the consequences of their homework decisions and that there is little change in overall completion rates.

McLaughlin stressed that the idea of grading homework solely as an incentive to do the work is complicated because not all teachers were correcting the homework for accuracy, meaning that in the past, students would still get credit for the work but may have made repeated mistakes. And, their grade would be higher than before because they received credit for the homework, he added.

“That is one of the problems that we identified early on that we are trying to address,” McLaughlin said of the new protocol.

Shannon Barnes, school board chairman, said the protocol is moving the district in the right direction and should continue during the next school year.

“Nothing truly brave happens seamlessly,” she said, adding it is a cultural change that will take time and require teamwork from teachers, students, parents and educators.

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