Baltimore County's school board last night gave parents a new weapon in the homework wars -- recommendations for how much and how often homework is assigned.
First-graders should expect about 30 minutes of homework several nights a week; seventh-graders about 90 minutes of work on week nights and 10th-graders three hours.
The homework guidelines are part of a package of policy changes on homework, grades, grading procedures and report cards, effective next year, that were approved by the board last night after considerable debate over one change -- how much final examinations should count in the final course grades.
The package is designed to standardize homework and grading and end a patchwork of policies crafted by individual schools.
Among the other changes:
All elementary schools will use the same report card.
Middle school students will receive letter grades in all subjects, rather than in only English, mathematics, science and social studies, as they do now.
Final exams will be required for all high school courses, and grades on the exams will count up to 15 percent of the final grade, instead of 11 percent as they do now.
It was this point that board members debated for more than an hour.
Contending that a weightier final would raise standards and expectations for students, Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione and his staff had recommended that final exams count 20 percent of the final -- the same weight as each quarter grade.
But board members questioned the validity of that argument and countered with their own about penalizing poor test-takers and nearly doubling the weight of the exam in a year when some students will be taking countywide finals for the first time.
"I admire your enthusiasm for tests, but I'm not sure I share it," board member Mary Katherine Scheeler told Ronald Thomas, executive director of the office of student accountability. "There are some who don't do well on tests and I want to be sure we don't penalize anyone."
Fellow board member H. J. Jack Barnhart questioned whether increasing the weight of the exam would increase excellence. "Maybe 11 percent is too low. I think 20 percent is too high," he said.
Student member Jessica Strott said her peers adamantly opposed the weightier exam, contending that "an exam should not count as much as a quarter's worth of work."
But Marchione countered that a weightier final sent messages to students and teachers alike that final exams, and the material they cover, are important. "We think we need to raise the bar for how much the exam is worth," he said.
In the end, the bar was raised but not as much as the superintendent preferred. The board passed the policy, but quickly issued a resolution directing Marchione to write a rule that would make the exam worth no more than 15 percent of the final grade.
Marchione agreed to do so.
The rule standardizing elementary school grades and report cards removes another vestige of the Stuart Berger era. A few lTC years ago, during the previous superintendent's tenure, letter grades were done away with in many elementary grades and each school was free to design its reporting "instrument."
About half of the elementary schools use report cards they designed; the others use one provided by the county.
By next year, the report cards will be the same across the county, and letter grades will be required in all subjects from fourth grade up. Younger students will continue to receive checklists indicating how they are performing various skills. These lists will, however, be revised and standardized for consistency from school to school.
The county's PTA council strongly supported this standardization, but opposed another change resulting from the revised policies -- giving high school credit for some middle school courses, namely algebra and foreign languages.
The rule states that students who successfully complete these courses in middle school and pass the countywide exam will earn high school credit.
"It puts too much stress on students," said council president Linda Olszewski. "Where are we trying to take these students?"
But board members did not question the rule, which school officials contend gives students opportunities to take more electives in high school.
Pub Date: 10/15/97