Changes to School Philosophies Foment Controversy


Hannah McLaughlin

Walpole Students Dislike the New Homework Philosophy but Applaud Changes to the Retake Philosophy.

With the advent of each new school year, students at Walpole High School expect to encounter new changes to the dynamics of an average school day. They may discover slight adjustments to the curriculum or notice minor modifications to the student handbook— both of which students accept and adapt to accordingly. Whether it be trivial tweaks (such as adding coffee to the Daybreak Café menu) or major changes (like the implementation of PLC on Tuesdays) the WHS Administration and staff employ new programs, philosophies, and policies intended to improve a student’s overall high school experience. This year, students were struck with news of drastically different approaches to homework and retakes than had previously been firmly established in years past. The two philosophies that Administration is promoting are intended to better assess a student’s knowledge of subject matter and simultaneously prepare them for success throughout their impending college education.

Unlike that of previous years, the new homework philosophy rejects the idea of briefly checking homework for completion and either rewarding a student with a 100 or punishing a student with a zero. Instead, teachers are encouraged to collect homework and assess a student on his or her understanding of the subject matter. Therefore, grades are not based on the quantity of questions ostensibly answered, but on the quality and correctness of answers provided by the student. Under this system, a student who forgets or fails to complete homework is instructed to stay after school and finish homework under the watchful eye of the teacher. This mandatory meeting after school ensures that the student remains on task, prevents them from copying the homework of a classmate, and allows the student an opportunity to ask the teacher any questions so that they may better understands the material in a one-on-one setting.

However, the new system raises a multitude of questions among students, parents, and staff. One major misconception is the idea that homework no longer counts. Principal Stephen Imbusch said, “The people we have heard most from regarding the new philosophy are parents. Many parents seem to have been getting an incorrect message about homework.” Contrary to rumors circulating throughout the community, Principal Imbusch said, “Homework is very important. It assesses what a student knows and what they can do.” As a result, the new philosophy provides a teacher the option to collect homework, grade it, and reward the student with a grade that reflects their knowledge and understanding of the subject.

The new philosophy stems from two salient concerns about the old system: an evident lack of accountability in addition to a distorted perception of academic reality. Walpole High School’s responsibility is to ensure that its students are learning classroom material and developing vital skills for use in college. Principal Imbusch worries that students who rely mostly on the extra boost they get from homework completion will be less prepared for life as a busy college student with loads of difficult homework. Additionally, an inflated or deflated grade provides an inaccurate presentation of how a student is doing academically. While some very knowledgeable students received deplorable grades as a result of having never done homework and constantly receiving zeros, others attributed their startling success to a much-needed “boost” from each 100 added to their respective X2 Aspen accounts. “That boost students receive as a homework grade is not real—it’s a hollow grade that in no way reflects student learning. We want to prepare kids for the future,” said Mr. Imbusch, adding “we do not want to set anyone up for failure.”

Meanwhile, many students are upset that the helpful “boost” they get from habitually doing their homework no longer exists. For some, it helped to keep grades afloat—for others, it made the ever-so-slight-but-extremely-significant difference between achieving High Honors and regular Honors at the end of the term. Though Administration argues that this safety net of a homework grade actually hampers a student in the long run, a vast population of students — and some teachers— disagree.

After the announcement of a new homework philosophy, many teachers have embraced the new policy while others have denounced it. Not only does the student have to miss their bus or arrive late to some sports practices or club meetings, but the teacher must stay after with them — a condition which creates several issues, as a teacher may not have the time to stay after of must attend to prior (and sometimes more important) obligations. Furthermore, teachers who wish to give students a homework grade must add a significant amount of work on top of their already monstrous “Things to Correct” pile. Finally, these teachers view the homework-correcting rule to be somewhat nonsensical, arguing that they like to see their students take risks when answering the homework questions. The new rule, they say, stifles a sense of creativity and the willingness to be adventuresome in their studies. Some are calling for a compromise—offer this new philosophy as one option, but allow the individual teacher to make the final call for their class.

As for the students, the feedback reflects staunch opposition. While some have no qualms with the system—“I always do my homework, so it doesn’t really affect me,” they said—others are up in arms. Regarding the suggestion that homework be graded for correctness, one frustrated senior said, “If a student doesn’t understand the subject, they should not be penalized for not doing homework if they put a strong effort into it.” Another concern many students had regarding the new philosophy is that it appears to leave little room for error. An opinionated sophomore said, “The new homework philosophy adopted by most of my teachers does not allow kids to make mistakes. The new quiz and test policy, however, helps kids learn from their mistakes.”

This student alludes to the second philosophy that is currently being stressed at Walpole High School—new changes to the quiz and test retake rules. Unlike the homework philosophy, this new system is widely accepted by the student body. Understanding that all students learn at different rates, Principal Imbusch is enforcing reformations to the retake policy that allow a student a second chance if need be. “Let’s say Johnny and Suzie are classmates in an honors class,” Principal Imbusch said. “Both students are of equal caliber in terms of academics, but Johnny understands a particular unit much faster and in much more detail than Suzie. Both study the same amount of time for a quiz, they take the quiz, and the results come in— Johnny passes with flying colors, while Suzie receives a failing grade. Should Suzie be punished with this grade—a grade that will surely bring her average down—simply because she doesn’t understand the subject matter quite as easily as Johnny did?”

Most WHS students welcome this new philosophy with open arms. Senior Karalyn Kickham said, “Now, students get a second chance to show teachers that they understand the material. A bad grade the first time could just be a result of a busy night with not enough time to study.”

Despite the mixed feelings regarding both new philosophies, Principal Imbusch maintains that the changes—meant to help the students, not hurt them— are a step in the right direction for WHS. He is convinced that if everyone is consistent, the new philosophies will survive. He said, “I am open to tweaking the philosophies slightly, if necessary. We weren’t preparing kids nearly enough with the old system, and I believe that this year’s changes will allow kids to gain much more knowledge and skill in their studies. Every year come graduation, we want to turn out kids who—by the end of their senior year—have reached their full potential,” Mr. Imbusch said. “I believe we have found two philosophies that help us to accomplish just that.”

While each September most students and teachers adopt the new school policies with complacent obedience (such as the retake policy), this homework policy has instead been met with confusion.  Mostly though, this confusion appears to be directly connected with something students and teachers take for granted: learning.  What is the purpose of homework?  Do students actually learn from homework?  Do grades actually reflect student learning, or are they a reflection of a student’s behavior or effort?

These questions are unsettling to the school community because they force teachers and students to reexamine their assumptions about the learning experience.  Subverting those assumptions, Principal Imbusch advocates learning is not a student behavior to be punished, but rather a skill to be measured by meaningful assessments.  The question remains though: Does the rest of the community agree with him?