PORTLAND (AP) – Summer vacation is a time for students to attend camps, play outside and relax with friends. Some students, however, can’t escape the homework.

Freeport High School sophomore Mollie Myers is plowing through a stack of homework assignments: read a John Grisham novel and chart out characters; follow a court case, discuss with adults and produce a scrapbook; finish page after page of math problems.

“This has been weighing on my mind,” she said.

Myers and other honors students attending Advanced Placement classes are often handed reading lists, assigned essays and other work to be completed while their friends take a break from homework. If they don’t do the work, then they could be barred from the class.

Against that backdrop, Maine high school principals are taking a fresh look at how homework is meted out at their schools.

The research on the benefits of homework is mixed.

The Center for Research and Evaluation at the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Maine reported on homework about five years ago.

Walter Harris, director at the center, said the research grew out of statewide concerns that some students were getting almost too much help from the parents with their homework while others not enough because of chaotic home situations.

“It is not a level playing field for kids,” he said.

The report concluded that high school students showed higher achievement with homework. But there was less of an improvement on middle school students, and there was no improvement whatsoever for elementary students.

Mike Muir, director of the Center for Meaningful and Engaged Learning at the University of Maine Farmington, is lukewarm about homework.

More important than whether homework is effective is whether teachers are effective. “We really need to focus on good teaching,” he said.

But some educators say homework is a good thing. Ken Kunin, principal of Portland’s Deering High School and a former elementary school principal, said homework has definite payoff for high school students.

It’s also important for elementary students to keep reading through the summer, he said. Studies show students lose a third of a grade level in reading each summer if they are not continually exposed to reading, he said.

Westbrook High School principal Marc Gousse said it is not just the summer homework policy that may need to be revamped, but the entire school year calendar that gives Maine students nearly three months off. Until 2001, Gousse was an assistant principal at Edward Little High School in Auburn and held a seat on the Lewiston City Council.

In other countries the breaks are fewer and more evenly spaced through the year.

“How do you combat the retention problem? You give them not as much time and some assignments,” he said.

In Freeport, the final verdict on the summer homework is still out.

Molly Susla, 14, another Freeport sophomore making her way through the same summer homework as Mollie Myers, said she was surprised her friends who attend private school got off much more lightly when it came to the summer homework.

“I thought they would have much more homework and they had only one small book which we read in ninth grade,” she said.

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