Back in June, the Board of Education’s Ad Hoc Reporting and Grading Committee issued a report outlining a new policy affecting students in grades 3 – 12 that would make homework worth between zero and 10% of a student’s grade.
The report received little notice; perhaps it was lost in the brouhaha over school uniforms. But homework deserves at least as much attention as polo shirts and khakis.
How will cutting or eliminating homework improve education? The Committee’s report doesn’t say. Fortunately, the policy is still in the draft stage, so there’s time for the Board to raise questions and hone the policy. Implementation is not expected until at least 2010.
But administrators at Patterson Mill Middle High School have decided not to wait for fine tuning. Beginning this year, teachers were required to calculate grades for all classes except physical education, as follows:
60% Summative Assessments (translation: tests, projects)
30% Formative Assessments (translation: quizzes, class work)
10% Homework (translation: why bother?)
In many subjects, math and foreign language for example, homework is essential to mastery. Making it worth just 10% of the grade undermines the reinforcement homework provides and gives students the idea that working independently and being responsible for assignments is optional.
While some studies suggest that de-emphasizing homework makes sense in elementary school, it sends exactly the wrong message to middle and high school students; leading parents and even some students to question the policy at Patterson Mill.
Students are circulating a petition, now containing over 150 signatures, arguing the policy provides little incentive for doing homework regularly and exaggerates the effect of one or two high stakes tests per quarter.
Parents raised concerns at a recent PTSA meeting where Principal Wayne Thibeault strangely asserted that the diminished emphasis on homework grades prepares students for college, because college homework is not graded.
But research clearly demonstrates that doing homework dramatically improves student achievement in middle and high school.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for a policy to standardize grading. Administrators at Harford County Public Schools are to be commended for recognizing the problem of having students assessed by a patchwork of different standards. But when it comes to homework, one size does not fit all subjects.
Rather than setting an arbitrary value for homework that may be too low for class like Algebra or too high for a class like Living in A Contemporary World, educators in each of the broad subject areas should be asked to agree on a standard value for homework within their respective areas of expertise (i.e. art, music, science, English, social studies, etc.) That way, the relative emphasis placed on homework would intentionally support learning and the policy would serve the students, and not the other way around.