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School officials clarify Merrimack homework strategy

MERRIMACK – “Homework is very important. We recognize its importance and always have.”

Despite not grading homework, Merrimack School District Superintendent Mark McLaughlin said officials do not overlook the activity’s importance. He spent time during Monday’s school board meeting addressing the notion that students in Merrimack don’t do homework.

“We are strictly adherents to the policy of the Merrimack School Board and the policy says homework is a constructive tool in the teaching/learning process when geared to the needs and abilities of students,” McLaughlin said.

This comes after being in litigation on the matter for months. The matter has been addressed in a number of different entities, including superior courts, the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and the New Hampshire Board of Education, as well as locally during Merrimack School Board public hearings.

As previously reported in The Telegraph, the courts and state board of education all sided with the district and its protocol.

Merrimack School District Homework Policy IKB reads as follows:

“Homework is a constructive tool in the teaching/learning process when geared to the needs and abilities of students. Purposeful assignments not only enhance student achievement, but also develop self-discipline and associated good working habits. As an extension of the classroom, homework must be planned and organized, must be viewed as purposeful to the students; and should be evaluated and returned to students in a timely manner.

Teachers may give homework to students to aid in the student’s educational development. Homework should be an application or adaptation of a classroom experience, and should not be assigned for disciplinary purposes.

A teacher shall carefully explain to his/her students how homework assignments relate to the grading system.

Though assigned homework is not graded, it is still being evaluated.”

McLaughlin said Monday, “Let me be clear: In Merrimack, the policy and the practice is when a teacher assigns homework, it is their duty to evaluate that homework and return it to students. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.”

He said it was also clear that not practicing homework “could and likely will have a significant impact on a variety of assessments that do count.”

McLaughlin said they’ve also acknowledged that not all students’ brains work the same.

“To assign homework to an entire class that’s exactly the same for everybody is not a good process and it’s not a good practice,” McLaughlin said.

He said the teams of teachers and administrators who worked on developing this idea were motivated mainly by the goal of providing a more accurate representation of a student’s knowledge and understanding in order to determine how best to help them.

“Homework is about practice, just like sports, music, art or anything else. We want to get better at it. Nothing happens without practice and while were practicing, sometimes we get things wrong,” McLaughlin said.

“If you’re an athlete and never practice your sport, you’re not going to do very well on the field and practicing the sport and making it count while you’re still learning to do it, should not impede you for making the team,” he added.

As they move forward with the school year, the district will continue to monitor the protocol’s implementation and will focus on the appropriateness of homework to all student needs.

After his presentation, McLaughlin received feedback from several board members. Board member Andy Schneider said he believes the root of the problem is the “inherent assumption” of what grading homework really means.

“I think people have an assumption that when a teacher grades homework, that they’re grading it for ‘You did it,'” Schneider said.

Schneider, who was once a student at Merrimack High School himself and has watched his children go through the district, said, “You could get a 60 on your homework, even if you did it all, you get the problem wrong, you get a 60 on your homework.”

“I think that the reality of how homework can be graded is the root of why it’s almost impossible to do it in a way that gives the results that people expect it to,” Schneider added.

He asked that McLaughlin report back to the board periodically with updates on how the protocol is performing.

Board member Brandi Nunez said she was in full support of the protocol, but said the challenge is in communication.

“I think we need to do a better job of ensuring that parents, teachers and students are all on the same page relative to what is expected of them, starting from the beginning of the year, not just relative to homework, but relative to everything that’s going to occur within that given year, within that given classroom,” Nunez said.

On the protocol itself, she said, “I don’t think we could have been more clear in how it’s written.”

She encouraged those who still have questions or concerns to reach out for clarification.

McLaughlin’s presentation can be found at http://merrimacktv.com/online-video/school-board/.

Grace Pecci may be reached at 594-1243 or gpecci@nashuatelegraph.com.