Menomonee Falls reintegrates homework into grading system

June 30, 2014

Menomonee Falls — A once common practice is going back to school. After a brief hiatus, homework will be reintegrated into the grading system at Menomonee Falls High School, starting with the 2014-15 school year.

Prompted by a year-long study conducted by the high school math department, the school board on June 23 unanimously approved a change to the district's policy on homework to allow homework to account for up to 10 percent of a student's grade. The study was conducted to get a sense of the impact homework has on the overall achievement of students, explained Director of Teaching and Learning Gary Kiltz.

"We know homework does impact achievement based on the external research that's been done on it," Kiltz said. "The results of the (math department's) research have confirmed that," he added, explaining that students who were completing homework were more likely to pass assessments on the first try.

It's something high school math teacher Casey Ulrich said he sees every day in his classes.

"The way that homework is perceived has changed," said Ulrich, who was part of the team who conducted the research within the math department. "The goal has been to find ways to have students learn the material, and we do believe homework is a tool that helps students reach the level of proficiency we're trying to achieve."

The emphasis on proficiency and continuous assessment of understanding has in some ways replaced what is commonly perceived as homework, Ulrich explained. For him, the difference lies in a student's pre-existing knowledge of a given topic.

"Homework is the new things we don't expect students to have mastered," he said. "On the other hand, what we consider to be practice is a review of skills they're supposed to have proficiency in already."

The change in policy partially reverses the board's 2010 decision to eliminate homework entirely from the grading system. Prior to that, homework comprised as much as 50 percent of a student's grade in a given class.

"What we're believing is it's not an either/or situation," Kiltz said. "Based upon the research we've done, as well as the external research, there should be a minimal portion that includes homework." Instead, Kiltz said the hope is to bring some amount of balance back into the grading equation.

"We're not talking about a high percentage," said Kiltz, "but for those kids who do complete it, they are certainly going to get an incentive bump, and we know long-term when they're completing their homework, it's going to impact their assessments."

In Ulrich's honors geometry and algebra II classes, these assessments account for half of a student's grade, in addition to 10 percent and 20 percent for the mid-term and final exams, respectively.

"Ultimately, the goal remains the same: we want our students to leave a class proficient in that topic," Ulrich said. "It's how we're getting there that we continue to tweak in hopes to provide the most effective methods of instruction for our students."

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