Here's a phone call that closely resembles countless calls I've received, "My son struggles at least two hours a night to finish his homework. And often he gets it wrong. If his homework is incomplete, his grade goes down. He hates homework. What can I do?"

One Solution

Prevent the problem.

It's far better to prevent than try to repair almost certain damage. Often, night after night of struggles with homework create or intensify struggling learners’ psychological struggles, have them over-learn their errors, and decimate their confidence and motivation for succeeding in school.

Here’s one solution that often prevents the problem. It’s a solution that’s clearly supported by the Individuals with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), the federal law which guides and governs much of special education.

IDEA specifically identifies you, as your child’s parent, as a full-fledged member of your son or daughter’s IEP Team. As such, you can work with other team members to have a statement of homework policy put in your child's IEP. Usually, anything less than an explicit and comprehensive statement won't suffice.

As you offer this statement, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the overarching goals of education are aimed at helping, not hurting or destroying children. To me, any action that knowingly hurts or destroys children’s psychological well-being is, in my most diplomatic language, morally repugnant.

Below is the recommended policy statement. Consistent with IDEA, it should be modified to meet your child’s specific needs.

The Recommended Policy Statement

"All of Edwin’s homework will be at his independent reading level (e.g., 99 percent word recognition, 90 percent comprehension), math level (90 percent or better accuracy), and executive function levels, as stated in his IEP’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. His parents and case manager will update Edwin’s independent levels as his progress warrants.

After he steadily works on his homework for 15 to 30 minutes, or expresses difficulty with his homework, his parents may excuse him from further work, without penalty to him. If possible, they'll write a brief note to his teacher and case manager, describing what they think caused him difficulty.

If Edwin’s parents or teachers report to his case manager that homework is continuing to cause him difficulties, his case manager will call an IEP meeting to identify likely barriers to progress and develop interventions that strengthen Edwin’s academics and alleviate any frustration or emotional distress that homework may cause."

Supporting Expertise

If other IEP team members express concerns about the criteria for reading and math, it’s often helpful to share authoritative statements like these that continue to mirror the prevalent views in reading, mathematics, special education, and educational psychology.


Independent Reading Level: "The readability or grade level of material that is easy for a student to read with few word-identification problems and high comprehension. Note: Although suggested criteria vary, better than 99 percent word-identification accuracy and better than 90 percent comprehension are often used as standards in judging if a reader is reading at this level." [Harris, T. L., & Hodges, R. E. (1995). The literacy dictionary: The vocabulary of reading and writing. Newark, DE: International Reading Association, p. 115]


"Educators generally believe that when average students cannot respond with about 85 percent accuracy, the material is too difficult; for students with severe cognitive handicaps, rates of correct response of less than 90 percent may indicate that the material is too challenging for guided practice. When instruction is too challenging, students do not learn efficiently and often experience frustration; such students are occasionally termed curriculum casualties." [Salvia, J., & Ysseldyke, J. E. (2001). Assessment (8th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, p. 25, italics added.]

Keep in mind that homework is an independent activity. Thus, the appropriate levels for homework are generally the levels above.

But even with these levels, teachers should avoid assigning any level that exposes children to expectations of horrendous failure and extreme anxiety. That’s one reason why IDEA requires special education to be personalized to match each child’s needs. And for struggling learners with IEPs, homework is part of special education.