Issaquah School District won’t revise homework policies

January 31, 2014

By Neil Pierson

New: Jan. 31, 1:03 p.m.

After an 18-month process that included many discussions with parents, teachers and students, the Issaquah School District has decided not to make any changes to existing policies and procedures about homework.

Superintendent Ron Thiele announced the decision at the Issaquah School Board’s Jan. 29 meeting. While no changes are coming, Thiele said the process sparked an important discussion throughout the district, and administrators reserve the right to make changes when they’re deemed necessary.

Thiele also admitted the decision may not satisfy everyone.

“Many people are still divided,” he said. “It’s not something where there’s a universal belief – ‘This is the way it should be.’”

Scrutiny of the homework policy began in August 2012 when leaders of the district’s Parent Teacher Student Association approached Thiele, who was then serving as Issaquah’s assistant superintendent. Thiele invited them to solicit input from parents and students.

An online survey was offered in June 2013, and nearly 1,500 people responded; about 75 percent of them were parents.

There were a wide variety of complaints and suggestions, and PTSA leaders made three broad conclusions: The district should “encourage professional development and collaboration among teachers to ensure homework is reasonably consistent, well-designed and meaningful,” teachers should be empowered to give “timely and meaningful feedback on assignments,” and students should have better opportunities to manage their workload, perhaps by giving a week’s advance notice for all homework assignments.

School board member Brian Deagle said he felt the district’s policy was strong when he first read it, and he said Issaquah should highlight the policy on its website to stress teachers’ commitment to students.

“When there’s more awareness about it, it’ll be easier to have the conversation,” Deagle said.

Two Skyline High School students – Jake Barokas and Gabe Pitasky – attended the meeting and spoke about their observations of homework practices.

Pitasky said he was in a class last year where a teacher didn’t give clear guidelines and deadlines, which caused him to miss assignments. He spoke with the teacher, and they fixed the problem, but Pitasky considers himself more outgoing than his peers.

“For most students, I don’t think they have the idea that they can go up and talk to their teachers,” Pitasky said.

Homework procedures were last revamped in March 2011. The policy states that “the purposes of homework assignments, the basis for evaluating the work performed and the guidelines and/or rules should be made clear to the student at the time of the assignment.”

Thiele said principals have worked with teachers to make sure “best practices” are being followed in regard to homework. Because the district replaces about 10 percent of its teaching staff each year, he said, work is always ongoing to keep new employees apprised of procedures.

“Teachers are also being encouraged to discuss their homework policies during collaborative time, and department and team meetings,” Thiele said.


District adjusting to changes in highly-capabale program

Changes are coming to the Issaquah School District’s programs for highly-capable students, and work is underway to make sure the district is following a new state law in time for the start of the 2014-15 school year.

During a study session prior to the Issaquah School Board’s Jan. 29 meeting, administrators gave an overview of the changes to come.

Currently, public schools must offer highly-capable programs in grades 3-12. Next year, they also must serve students in kindergarten, first and second grades.

Issaquah offers two programs – MERLIN and SAGE – to students in grades 3-5. Prospective students are given three tests in second grade; the top 2 percent typically qualify for MERLIN and the top 4 percent for SAGE.

In middle schools and high schools, gifted learners are offered several options, including honors and advanced placement courses, Running Start and College in the Classroom.

Jodi Bongard, the district’s executive director of elementary education, said existing programs won’t undergo changes, but the district will have to identify highly-capable kindergarten and first-grade students through a screening process this spring.

District officials said the state isn’t providing additional funding to implement the program expansion.

Schools typically nominate students who are tested for highly-capable programs, Bongard said, although parents are also allowed to submit nominations.

Districts throughout the state are interpreting the new law differently, and Issaquah is waiting to receive final instructions from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction before it can finalize its plans.

That’s frustrating for administrators like Issaquah Superintendent Ron Thiele.

“We’re trying to move a whole organization in a different direction,” he said.

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