Sunday, October 23, 2005

Make it count.

My 9th grade students arrived in September fresh out of the challenging and rigorous world of middle school. That breeding ground of high intellectual growth and accountability. It happens every year, from districts in the great state of Washington to the the lovely state of Connecticut. Millions of former 8th grade students flutter into the classrooms of high schools ill-prepared for the realities ahead.
Much has been written in the past few years about how unprepared high school graduates are for college. Something in the area of 1/3 are not ready for basic 101 courses in English. With the ever increasing liability for academic progress being pushed by lawmakers onto high school teachers, it is time that we stop social promotion in our schools.
It is absurd to promote a student who is not capable of demonstrating the proper mastery of content because it might hurt their self-esteem. This make our kids feel good about themselves attitude has created an atmosphere in which students are not ready for the academic world of high school or subsequently college.
In the state of Washington, where students now must pass the WASL to graduate, it is time for lawmakers to step out of Olympia and into the classrooms to see what exactly we are dealing with. The suits want to suddenly hold these students accountable for their education after years of teaching them that grades don't matter.
This is simply demonstrated by looking at my gradebook this fall. Missing assignments after missing assignment has left some students struggling to maintain grades. Now, there are those who would say I need to accept late work--that it is the content learning that is most important.
Philosophically, I can't agree with that. Because I sure know that when I don't pay my credit card bill on time, the creditors don't accept my late payment without a consequence.
Here is what needs to happen, a total overhaul. If by the end of third grade a student is supposed to be able to read at a third grade level, then they should not move on to fourth grade. I don't care if it hurts their feelings. If parents would stop coddling their children and thereby teaching them that life has no hard knocks, children would learn to adapt. Isn't that what we teach in Biology class? Species adapt. Survival of the fittest.
Maybe I'm just being selfish. But for the sake of every educator who teaches at the next level, whatever level that might be, hold kids accountable.


At 7:41 PM , Blogger graycie said...

You are right. No question. In fact, I have a scheme that would work, if it weren't unconstitutional and possibly against the Geneva Convention.

At the same time, I know this: there's more to the problem than passing kids who don't know the material or skills.

Four years ago I moved from 8th grade in a middle school to 9th grade at the high school. Quite a few of my 8th graders were also my freshmen that year. We would hit something I had taught these same kids the year before -- my very own kids had mastered it in my class -- and they had no idea what I was talking about. 'We didn't have that last year. The techer didn't give it to us." *I* was that teacher and I certainly had given it to them. and they had learned it! My voice rose to glass-breaking putch.

We need to do away with a long break in the summer to avoid brain-wipe. (I have a scheme for that, too.)

At 7:48 PM , Anonymous k said...

I have another scheme...
Do way with the group promotion all
together. Promote by subject. That way my dyslexic son could have stayed in the reading level he needed to keep learning but could have flown waaaaaay ahead in the math subject that he is so gifted in. It wasn't until 7th grade that he was allowed to leap frog ahead of his peers in math. And it wasn't until 7th grade that he actually learned to read.

At 10:44 PM , Anonymous Dana Huff said...

I agree with you. I taught middle school for two years of my career. Do you know I actually got called on the carpet over my failure rate? The exact quote was that my standards were "too high" and I was approaching the students like a "high school teacher." Yeah, I was. Because I had taught high school and wanted to get them ready.

Students figure out pretty early what they need to "pass" in order to get to the next level, and all too often, it's not much. It's an insult to teachers who do try to hold students accountable that they can take a test and their grades in the class don't matter -- this was true of 7th grade at the middle school where I taught.

Teaching middle school is one of the most difficult, frustrating, disheartening things I've ever done in my life.

At 1:04 PM , Blogger graycie said...

Yes, yes, yes! Year-round school, done properly, would allow promotion in smaller steps three times a year, by subject. I won't fill up this comment section -- but I will think about how to explain it clearly in my own blog.

At 4:31 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

A colleague of mine has proposed to me something of the sort. A year round school in which there are four three week breaks for students who are passing their courses. Those who are not--"summer" school for those three weeks. I think kids will pick it up in hurry when they know that in a short amount of time they could earn three weeks off.

At 9:56 PM , Blogger SkiTheStars said...

I built my own gradebook which deals very rapidly with missing assignements. I simply enter a low garde for the missing assignment, and I make sure it has 2 decimal places.

When I post my grades anonymously, the point totals for the kids with missing assignments will be lower and will also have 2 decimal places, 99 times out of 100. It stands out like a sore thumb and the kid can't come and say, "why's my grade so low? " They already know, "double decimals, make it up."

They always really do know, they just pretend they don't. You can see how my gradebook works at It's an Excel template, which I improve everytime I get or am told better ideas.

Doug Keachie

At 9:09 PM , Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Yeah, as they say in one of my favorite movies, slightly altered: Oui, middle school was too beautiful for me, so I had to leave. You people make my ass twitch.

We don't do kids any favors when we're told to do them favors and accept junk work late.

Say on!

At 8:57 PM , Blogger JHS Teacher said...

Late work.

God how I hate those two words together.

So often it's the parent who insists on the child "making it up." I've been blamed as well for not alerting the folks immediately when little Johnny or Debbie hasn't turned in Monday night's assignment.

Oo... I have to blog about this soon.

At 9:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your job, sir, is to take EACH child from where they are to where they need to go! While the student who can "do" your assigned work makes your job a "dream," it is your job to TEACH the rest!!!

Perhaps it is YOUR classroom that is NOT meeting the needs of the learners in front of you. What are you doing to create a powerful learning experience for EACH child, each and every day, in your classroom? Is each and every lesson crafted to meet the needs of your diverse learners? Are you, their teacher, performing with the riggor that you demand from them?

The best teachers I know love each individual child for their unique gifts. They help ALL students use their gifts to learn. AND, they never give up.


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