Survey: Students, parents have homework issues

August 27, 2013

By Neil Pierson

There were some conclusive patterns that came out of monthslong research into the homework practices of Issaquah School District students.

Results of the district’s homework survey were presented to the Issaquah School Board on Aug. 14. The eight-question survey was offered online in June to students, parents and teachers; it came on the heels of site-based homework meetings throughout the spring at 15 of the district’s 24 schools.

Nearly 1,500 people responded to the online survey — 75 percent of them parents — and Issaquah’s Parent Teacher Student Association gleaned three objectives for district officials:

  • The district should “encourage professional development and collaboration among teachers to ensure homework is reasonably consistent, well-designed and meaningful.”
  • The district should empower teachers to give “timely and meaningful feedback on assignments.”
  • Students should have better opportunities to manage their workload, perhaps by getting a week’s advance notice for all homework assignments.

Betsy Cohen, who serves on the PTSA’s board of directors, said the majority of the students who responded to the online survey were in middle school and high school, while the majority of parent responses involved elementary grades. There was an interesting trend among written comments, Cohen said.

“The parents’ quotes were way more vicious,” she said.

Cohen, whose children include a junior at Issaquah High School and a graduate of IHS, said parents have been complaining about homework for many years. Last year, PTSA presidents at several schools approached then-district Associate Superintendent Ron Thiele, who invited them to solicit parent input and help the district review its homework guidelines.

Issaquah’s homework policy, last updated in March 2011, states that work outside the classroom “must be planned and organized; must be purposeful to the students; and must be evaluated and returned to students in a timely manner.”

Results from the online survey indicate that’s not always happening.

One question asked about the relevance of homework. More than 60 percent of middle-school and high-school respondents said work is often irrelevant, with too much “busy work” like coloring and crosswords, and too many assignments about concepts that weren’t introduced in class.

Another question related to the timeliness of feedback from teachers. Sixty-one percent of high-school respondents — 44 percent in middle school and 31 percent in elementary school — said responses aren’t timely enough. Among the complaints are “constructive feedback is lacking,” teachers websites aren’t frequently updated and teachers “farm out” assignments to other people who grade them.

Maybe the most telling statistic involved the number of assignments. Half of elementary school respondents, 75 percent in middle school and 92 percent in high school said teachers assign too much homework. It often intrudes on sleep and family time, doesn’t allow students to hold part-time jobs, and often requires work on weekends and holidays, comments stated.

Cohen said there is a wide variety of research on the effects — both negative and positive — for homework, and while there isn’t a consensus on many ideas, it’s generally agreed upon that homework benefits older students more than younger ones.

“It’s tough to find that sweet spot,” Cohen said, “and it varies tremendously from child to child.”

Thiele, in response to a question from school board President Brian Deagle, said there are no clear answers yet as to whether Issaquah’s homework policy will be revised. Thiele, who is now superintendent, said he hasn’t met with school staff yet, although it’s clear in his mind that teachers need more professional development to address the issue.

Thiele said he felt the three overarching objectives of the survey were relevant, and there’s already work being done to implement best practices among Issaquah’s teachers.

“Just as a result of this project last year, I got a lot of feedback from principals and … teachers were already beginning to have these conversations, and some practices were already starting to change,” Thiele said.


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3 Responses to “Survey: Students, parents have homework issues”

  1. The Homework Question | The Doc Is In on August 28th, 2013 11:25 pm

    […] I did read an article tonight about homework, which relates to a conversation a group of us had at lunch today. The […]

  2. All things in Moderation... on August 30th, 2013 5:44 pm

    Perhaps some homework is useful….I am beginning to even feel that is debatable. I am frankly tired of my children having to stay up till 2 am to complete their homework assignments. When my son, who is a junior at Skyline, comes home with homework from EVERY ONE of his classes, I really get irritated. This intrudes on the family, the time the student should be able to have a respite, and if they have any extracurricular activities….forget about it!
    Teachers need to teach in their classes and if they do have homework, grade it, publish the grades, and offer feedback in a timely manner so it is actually useful. And…how about rotating the assignments….period 1=Monday HW, period 2=Tuesday HW, etc. At least the kids and their families would have some life, other than school.

  3. Jane E. Lotz-Drlik, Ed.D. on August 31st, 2013 3:26 pm

    Kudos on gathering feedback concerning homework policy. We keep thinking that progress is being made in teachers assigning and students completing relevant, meaningful homework, and then one reads this article about middle and high-school students being assigned coloring assignments and crossword puzzles(?). Beyond belief.

    Parents and students have suffered through homework issues too long. At the same time, a significant number of both still seem to believe that

    1) Homework is largely unnecessary, yet students will somehow attain the mastery of skills that require thousands of opportunities for independent practice (mathematics, writing, some reading), review and study (social studies, science, spelling, and more) that are essential to mastery. And no, spellcheck isn’t the answer, neither are Internet “how-to” fabrications, and performance in all of these areas is increasingly poor. And test scores?

    2) Homework should be graded? Come on – should have ended as an issue, long ago. Evaluation yes – timely rreturn to review and correct, but not grades toward a student’s overall performance evaluation when the homework could have been, and too often is, completed by individuals other than the student. Require independent practice (home) until mastery is demonstrated, give credit for completion that will have value in students’ academic evaluations, shuffle the completed assignments when collected, pass back out, correct as a class, get the work back into the students’ hands, review and check for understanding – immediately.

    3) School comes first, including homework. Part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, lots of fun time on a daily basis – sorry, may not be happening, and that’s the way it is. Sometimes homework may land on weekends, though, particularly for elementary, why over certain long holidays? Some of that is in the students’ hands, though.

    Teachers – come on, stop using homework scores for report card grades! Let’s have some school communication and policy so that students don’t get a truckload of evening assignments. Students – use your time well. And let’s get prepared for the real world – you’re going to have to manage your time without knowing all expectations a week ahead. Pay attention in class and spare us complaints about the teachers’ websites. I have yet, in 35-plus years, seen any significant number of students improve in submission by having long-term deadlines. Plenty of opportunities for those with certain projects. Homework may come on a daily basis – get it done.

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