BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The issues of summer homework and student reading remain topics of discussion in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District.
Superintendent Russell Lazovick spoke about the summer program at a recent board of education meeting, and said that a full plan will be forwarded to the board’s academic committee. He said that surveys have also gone out to students in grades five through 12, along with focus groups.
“Through protocols, we got direct feedback,” said Lazovick. “Communication is key when it comes to homework, and consistency as well.”
He added that consistency is different than flexibility, and that new surveys will go out in March or April 2020. The takeaway was that summer homework should be recommended, rather than required.
Advanced Placement classes are currently the only ones still requiring summer assignments, honors and academic level classes do not.
One goal that was mentioned was to increase student reading across the summer, and to also build curriculum, by utilizing online and other resources. The district is working with libraries and educational institutions for opportunities based on student and parent choices.
“The first step we should be taking is building a flexible environment,” said Lazovick. “I think this does take us in that direction.”
Board president Jill Gladstone said it is great to take the pressure off the district’s students over summer. She said she feels a student having to read at minimum one book over the summer is an acceptable workload, although she later said that some courses assigned too much extra work.
Gladstone also pointed out that some students wouldn’t take certain classes due to the inordinate amount of summer homework that would be involved. She said she would like to see some sort of review, to make sure summer work is in line with the district and curriculum, as she feels that students are already under a lot of pressure.
Lazovick responded that AP classes are different, and follow a nationally-mandated curriculum. Students also have about two months less time than their peers in other classes to prepare for them, since AP final examinations are usually given in April or May, rather than at the traditional end of the school year in late June, and so those students need a “running start” to their school year.
Board member Barry Walker asked why AP classes can’t be ended after their exams are held, as he said those students don’t really do anything in those classes following their tests.
Lazovick replied that there are time limits to fulfill, regarding 40-minute class periods.
School board member Anne Marie Mead said she thinks summer work is a good idea, and that grading it is good, but she also added that AP classes are college-level courses and have different standards.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” she said.
Mead also pointed out the family unit and parental significance, in that some parents challenge their children academically. She also asked that, if summer work is not mandated, then not doing it might hurt those very students who need an academic push.
Walker said he was skeptical of a roll-out of summer homework in just over three weeks’ time.
“I hope it works,” he said.
Lazovick said supervisors are working to market summer work differently, and that letters will be going out in the next few weeks, although most summer work is not mandated by district teachers, and that those students who need the work the most still might not accomplish it.
“One size fits none,” he commented, using an old adage, while noting that district personnel have to help students find success. “It’s going to be an interesting year.”
He also mentioned online resources that are available, including with mathematics, that students could make use of if they so wished.
Hurley said that the matter had actually been discussed a dozen years ago in committee, when it was impressed upon the board that students should read over the summer, although those who need it the most tend to be the ones who don’t go ahead and read. Lazovick agreed that even if reading was mandated, some students simply wouldn’t do it.
“We have to change the mindset,” said Lazovick, who added that students reading online, or reading graphic novels or other forms, should still be considered to be reading.
“We want them to get more excited (about reading), and less compliant,” he added.
Board member Zachary Malek asked about having students write a one-page book report on a book they read over the summer, and then turning in that report when the school year starts, for extra credit, although it was again mentioned that some students might do the reading, while others simply wouldn’t.
Lazovick said it is all part of a bigger discussion, that reading should not be viewed as something punitive, and that students should be encouraged to read as much as possible.