A spirited discussion on homework anchored last week’s meeting of the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Board of Trustees.
The board discussed the role of homework in maintaining balance between academic rigor and easing the workload on stressed-out students.
Associate Superintendent Margarita Navarro and Los Altos High Assistant Principal Galen Rosenberg presented a status update on the implementation of Academic Regulation 6154, a district policy that dictates how much homework teachers can assign. The policy was enacted last spring, after Navarro and Rosenberg surveyed teachers and students at both Los Altos and Mountain View highs to evaluate the amount and impact of homework assigned. The new policy includes homework-free weekends and vacations, including homecoming, Thanksgiving and breaks in December, February and April.
The results of the homework restrictions have been largely positive so far.
According to a January survey at Los Altos High, 48 percent of sophomores, juniors and seniors reported feeling “much less” or “somewhat less” stress as a result of the changes. Seventy-five percent of the students surveyed said they felt “a lot less” or “somewhat less” stress with the introduction of the homework-free weekends.
At Mountain View High, 60 percent of students surveyed in May responded that homework-free weekends and breaks were “quite or very effective.” In addition, 42 percent registered their opinion that “most to all” homework was meaningful.
While some believe that easing the amount of homework might lead to a dip in academic performance, especially in the most rigorous courses, MVLA AP scores experienced a slight uptick. After comparing AP performance at Los Altos and Mountain View highs in 2015-2016 with 2016-2017, Navarro and Rosenberg reported a 3 percent increase in AP test takers, a 6 percent bump in total tests taken and an overall 80 percent passing rate.
However, not everyone was convinced that the new homework regulations would keep pace with academic demands.
“I should think that one of the main goals of revising a homework policy is to make homework more efficient in accomplishing the goals of the course,” Trustee Phil Faillace said. “The fact that 42 percent felt that ‘most to all’ of the homework was meaningful means that perhaps 58 percent felt that is was not. How can we address that issue?”
District staff examined survey data over the summer and noted the questions the results raised on both high school campuses.
“One of the facets of the board policy is the purpose of homework,” Navarro said. “To what extent are we having these conversations about the quantity, the quality, the expectation of what homework does for students? That’s a very live conversation.”
Rosenberg addressed the homework dilemma.
“I think it’s more challenging to say, ‘How do we make this more rigorous but not more demanding in terms of time?’” he said. “I think it’s true that there is a correlation between the rigor of an experience and the time required to do it effectively, but that isn’t always true in every case.”
Faillace asked the student trustees for their take.
“I like to split my schedule with AP classes and also regular so I don’t overload myself, but most homework that I do – definitely not all, but most – is meaningful,” said Varunjit Srinivas, Mountain View High student trustee.
Mahita Bobba, Srinivas’ Los Altos High counterpart, agreed for the most part.
“I’m in the same boat as Varun,” she said of her homework load. “I feel like sometimes it is kind of busywork, but it’s related to the topic we’re learning about. I think teachers try really, really hard to make sure that the homework we do is entertaining, or useful.”
The new policy is still in its evaluation phase, and trustees are expected to revisit the conversation.
For more information on AR 6154, visit tinyurl.com/ MVLAhomework.