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New homework protocol raising questions in Merrimack

Union Leader Correspondent

September 12. 2017 11:07AM
Buses line up at Merrimack High School in 2014. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT FILE)

MERRIMACK — School officials are requesting more information about a newly implemented homework protocol that is intended to eliminate busywork.

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.

“The effort is to separate the doing of homework from an academic grade,” said Assistant Superintendent Mark McLaughlin. “ … Homework is as important to Merrimack as it has ever been.”

McLaughlin told the school board last week that the district’s homework policy remains the same, but the new protocol was implemented after a review of past practice.

“The consequence of non-compliance or insufficient care with homework assignments rests with the student and will not be factored into a final academic grade, but will likely result in diminished understanding and performance and, by extension, a reduced academic grade,” states the new homework protocol, adding homework is intended to support student learning by providing opportunities for practice based on the different needs of students.

Practice is designed to support deeper learning, said McLaughlin.

The new protocol prompted several questions from school board members last week, who requested that more information be presented to the board.

“What I think is in the minds of the students right now is that ‘I don’t have to do anything that I take home,’” said Michael Thompson, school board member.

While Thompson said he agrees busywork needs to be eliminated, he said clarification is needed on the new homework protocol — a change that was established following committee-level discussions, an evaluation of current research and a consideration on student learning and motivation.

“Right now there is a lot of confusion because of this,” agreed Andy Schneider, school board member.

He asked if local educators would be willing to come in and explain to the board how they are interpreting the new protocol, how it will be used and how or if this could impact remediation.

In a letter to parents, McLaughlin stressed that the new homework protocol relates to assignments that are intended to provide practice only.

“Projects, essays, lab reports, research papers, etc., are all reasonable and acceptable examples of work that, for a variety of reasons, can be assigned to be completed at home,” he said. “If so, it stands to reason that these assignments be graded as the significant pieces of work they are, and factored into the students’ academic grade. They exceed practice.”

Practice homework, although it will not be graded, must still be evaluated and used as a tool for teachers to determine a student’s progress toward understanding key concepts, according to McLaughlin’s letter.

“I think we have a lot to study on this,” said Shannon Barnes, school board chairman. It will be important to gather feedback from students and teachers to review how the new protocol is impacting student performance and whether it is effective, she said.

Naomi Schoenfeld, school board member, said she believes the new protocol is a positive change, but wants to ensure that everyone understands the adjustments being made. She agrees that busywork should no longer be valued.

Education Merrimack

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