As students returned to Lyons Township High School this week, they will find that they have more incentive to do their homework this year, because if you don’t do your homework, it will hurt your grade. 

That’s one of the changes administrators made this summer to the grading system at LTHS in response to sustained and vocal complaints from some parents, teachers and school board members.

Homework, as well as factchecks, checks for understanding and other small, graded assignments, will now count toward the final grade in a course.

“If they don’t do the work, they could lose up to 10 percent of the grade,” said LTHS Director of Curriculum and Instruction Scott Eggerding.

Homework and other so-called formative work was not graded or counted at all in LTHS’s new grading system implemented two years ago. But amid complaints that students were no longer doing homework and were sometimes caught in an endless cycle of test retakes, the administration began changing changed its policies. During the second semester of last year, for example, completed homework could help, but not hurt, a grade. 

Amid continuing complaints, however, that students were not motivated or incentivized to do homework, the administration retreated more this summer. 

“We had a lot of discussions about really how to strike a balance, and what we were finding is that many students were just not doing work because it wasn’t counting, so we were asked to come up with ways to incentivize turning in work,” Eggerding said.

The policy around retakes has also been further tightened. Students must turn in summative assignments, papers, projects and tests on time in order to be eligible for retakes.

Students will have a two-week window after the due date to turn in any missing work. If they do not turn in the work, they will get a zero for the assignment. Administrators want to limit the number of retakes and stop the cycle of retakes that some students got caught up in last year.

“We had some feedback from different course teams. Some had no problems with the retakes and others still had a challenge with students retaking everything, or wanting to retake assessments two, three, four times,” Eggerding said. “So, we’re allowing course teams to limit students to one retake per test. Some will choose to do that, some won’t, and we’re also allowing them to limit the number of retakes, so that students can retake all assessments or only half.”

Eggerding said the changes were made after getting suggestions from division chairs, the grading implementation team, the school board and the central leadership team. Focus groups were also held with students.

The theory behind the grading system implemented two years was that a course grade should be based only what a has learned in a class and not on behaviors such as turning in homework, which were said to favor students with better home environments. 

Another goal was to standardize grading practices throughout the school. Eggerding said administrators are trying to find a middle ground that stays true to the goals of the new system while recognizing the unforeseen issues resulting from the changes.

“I would say it’s a reasonable compromise,” Eggerding said. “Where we were six years ago, nothing was consistent even among the same courses. Some teachers were giving homework and some weren’t, even though it was the exact same class. Some were giving extra credit, some weren’t. We’re still in a way better place than we were six years ago.”

At the Aug. 22 school board meeting, Andrew Johannes, president of the Lyons Township Education Association, the teachers’ union, said faculty supported the changes.

“The LTEA is happy about the grading changes and is optimistic that the changes will improve the experiences for the students,” Johannes said.

School board President Kari Dillon also was happy with the changes. Some school board members, although not Dillon, had been critical of the grading system in place last year and called for changes. 

“I feel good about where we landed with that, to be honest,” Dillon told the Landmark in telephone interview. “I know that the administration reached out to a lot of teachers and took a lot of input from the parents in the community, and I think we landed on a solution that will work for our students’ success this fall.”

In another change, some type of final exam will be required in all classes for all students except for second semester seniors in 2022-23. While final exams will be mandatory for everyone else, teachers will have four options for finals. They can require an old-fashioned cumulative final exam, give a summative final exam that is more like a chapter test, require a final project or performance or offer a retake, revision or reflection exercise.

The school announced the changes in a letter sent to parents in July by Superintendent Brian Waterman and Principal Jennifer Tyrrell.

“We appreciate the feedback we have received regarding our grading policy,” the letter said. “We will continue to work to ensure we deliver a rigorous educational experience and hold our students to high expectations.”

Eggerding said that no grading system is perfect.

“Ultimately it doesn’t matter your grading system, you’re still trying to measure learning and there’s no magic way of doing that,” Eggerding said.