Glenwood School District's Homework, Testing Policy Gets Failing Grade From Some Staff, Parents

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By Joe Foreman, Editor

Competency-based Education.
    Mastery-based Grading.
    Standards-based Grading.

Call it what you want, but the Glenwood Community School District’s new protocol for homework and testing is receiving a failing grade from some teachers and parents within the district.

At a meeting earlier this month, multiple parents voiced concerns to school board members and administrators about new homework and testing policies implemented for the 2013-2014 school year. Opposition to Common Core, a national initiative established to create standards for what children should be expected to comprehend at each level of their K-12 education, was also voiced.

Under the homework policy being implemented by the district, students are assigned homework, but the assignments they turn in have no bearing on the final grade they receive for the class. The final grade is based strictly from scores achieved on examinations. The policy, opponents believe, lessens the incentive for students to complete their homework.
Parent Cathy Aspedon told school board members her child hasn’t brought homework home all year.

Julie Wells said the homework policy has had a negative affect on the education of her children.

“Regardless of what end of the spectrum these kids are on with the homework policy, it’s not working,” Wells said.

In an interview last week, Glenwood superintendent Devin Embray said homework is still a major component of the education process in Glenwood.

“We never gave up homework to begin with,” Embray said. “Homework is still expected to be given, still expected to be checked and feedback is still expected to be given to students, but it doesn’t count for a grade.

“In doing a cross-sectional analysis of homework and practices in our high school, they were nothing more than participation grades, for the most part. It was either you got 100 percent because you showed the teacher you had it or you got a zero if you didn’t do it. Rarely was it ever checked and rarely was there ever any feedback given on it.”

Prior to the adoption of the new policy, Embray said homework scores were weighing too heavily on final class grades.

“When you started looking at grades, students’ grades were basically inflated anywhere from 5-10-15 percent based on the homework,” Embray said. “It really wasn’t about learning or what they knew skill and concept-wise, it was just about they adhered to the policy of ‘Did you do it? Give you credit for it,’ whether or not you did it right or understood the concept right.”

In addition to the change in homework policy, the district is also hearing concerns about new testing protocol which allows a student to continue to retake an exam until he or she has achieved a passing grade. Students who pass an exam, are also allowed to retake an exam in an effort to achieve a higher grade.

Criticisms of the “retake” policy are that it’s forcing teachers to spend more time with students who require remedial instruction on materials the rest of the class has already mastered; students are less likely to study for an exam knowing they can do a retake; the policy isn’t preparing students for college where they won’t be allowed to retake an exam; and the policy isn’t fair to students who achieve an “A” or passing grade the first time they take the exam.

GCHS English teacher Belinda Bessey is opposed to both the homework and testing policies - so strongly opposed she submitted her resignation earlier this month.

“The homework grade doesn’t count for the final grade, they can retake a test several times and the teachers are having to come up with all these reteaching materials,” Bessey said.

“They (students) know they can retake it, so why study for the test the first time when you know you can take it over. Even if you get a “B” you can still take another test and try to get an “A.”

Bessey, one of four English teachers in the district who have submitted resignations, said she fears the policy could turn the high school into a “testing machine.”

“I just can’t see putting my kids through this. I just don’t believe in it. It’s not my teaching philosophy and that’s why I’m leaving.

“It’s incredibly sad because I love it here. I love my students, the people I work with, the beautiful building and my classroom. It’s been a really difficult decision.”
Embray said the ultimate goal of the new policies is to help students grasp the concepts and materials being taught in class.

“A lot of research has been done, a lot of work has been done to ramp up our expectations in the district and really make sure there’s accountability for what our students know and are able to do,” Embray said.