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Pasco’s new approach to homework: If it’s just practice, it won’t be graded

Grades should reflect what students know, not their work habits, school officials said.
Students climb an outdoor stairway during the first day of classes at Pasco County's newest public school, the Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Wesley Chapel.
Students climb an outdoor stairway during the first day of classes at Pasco County's newest public school, the Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Wesley Chapel. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Aug. 17

LAND O’LAKES — Students attending Pasco County middle and high schools won’t have to worry as much about homework bringing down their grades this year.

As part of an ongoing effort to better align grades to children’s learning, the school district told teachers that homework assigned for students to practice what they were taught in class may not be included in their report card marks.

“Homework is important, but it should not be tied to the grades,” director of teaching and learning Lea Mitchell said.

Mitchell likened the new format to giving students “practice for free” toward demonstrating mastery of the required academic standards. Student conduct and work habits fall into the same category of items that may be reported to students and families for their knowledge and possible action, but not reflective of a student’s achievement, she said.

The decision falls in line with the district’s belief statement, which states that students should receive multiple opportunities to learn and demonstrate proficiency, and that grades should communicate students’ achievement of course standards.

Related: Grades should reflect performance, not behavior, Pasco County schools official says

Mitchell said more than a third of participants in spring student focus groups indicated that they saw no connection between grades and what they know and still need to learn. A separate survey of middle and high school families indicated many felt that academic expectations weren’t clearly stated, she added.

“We are pressing toward more consistency, because right now there is almost none,” Mitchell said.

The announcement was greeted on social media with skepticism.

Parents and teachers contended the model would convince students that they don’t have to do homework. Several teachers also complained that they knew little about the change, and had received no training to implement it.

Citing the need to negotiate over such alterations to teacher working conditions, the United School Employees of Pasco sent a “cease and desist” letter to the district. The union argued that the grading and homework procedures violated contractual provisions on academic freedom and teaching assignments.

“We certainly do have concerns and we have expressed those concerns,” union director of services and operations Jeff Larsen said, declining to comment further.

School Board member Colleen Beaudoin said she had received calls and emails from several upset teachers. They raised questions about their ability to assign any work outside the classroom, and also asked about whether participation in courses such as art and band could be counted toward grades.

Mitchell explained that the homework rule does not apply to essays, long-term projects or even assignments begun in class but sent home for completion. Those are part of the required material for a course, she said.

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The focus is on extra work that teachers often send home for students to practice or review content covered in class, she said. Some students can pass without practicing, she added.

Participation in the arts is expected to demonstrate mastery, Mitchell continued. It is not the same as raising your hand in a history course — something that would not be graded.

These latest initiatives follow the district’s attempts since 2016 to move toward standards-based grading. It pursued then halted a new report card model that relied less on letter grades and more on detailing student progress, and also barred the idea of giving students “free points” for things such as bringing in classroom supplies.

The effort stalled during the pandemic, Mitchell said, but now is back in full swing.

Teacher teams are expected to provide in advance a syllabus of what students are expected to do to meet proficiency. Students should be graded accordingly, with report cards that indicate where they’re making progress and where they need improvement.

And homework for practice will be just for that purpose.

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