3 Week Failure Reports

3 Week Failure Reports

We are through with the third week of school, and progress reports went out to parents Friday. Only one person failing Honors Geography , and only because of a missing paper, no surprise there. But in my regular classes the passing rate goes from 25 to 40%. Over half of my students are failing , and I dropped their lowest grade! Without the dropped grade only 10% passed. So what does this mean?

I think there are several reasons for the high failure rate. First, I am dealing with 9th graders. That particular age group has a historically high failure rate. 9th grade boys are statistically the most likely to fail, and most of mine are failing at least 2 of their classes. Second, these students seem particularly untutored in reading, math, and science skills. I also believe parents are unable or unwilling to enforce the standards that mine did.

According the March 16, 2004 CSM "Among black, tribal American, and Hispanic students statewide (North Carolina), 1 in 4 now repeats (their) freshman year." The statistics are much the same for the rest of the nation. I think a lot of this has more to do with teenage boys than anything else. Its a tough age anyway, but being thrown into high school and having to deal with older, larger kids puts them at a disadvantage to begin with. Several districts are trying 'ninth grade schools' but they are so new and so few that there are few good statistics on their sucess. Separate classes for the sexes are also being tried, and may be a partial answer. The most successful strategies focus on smaller classes and more supportive environments for ninth graders. Our district has a grant-funded program called the 'ninth grade initiative' that removes the failing students from the regular school and places them in a small program where they have one-on-one help and assistance. Most of them are able to catch up and return to regular school in tenth grade.

'By the time they get to high school, many (students) are reading at levels far below what is expected of a teen-ager, ... "We're expecting ninth-graders, when they're really fifth-graders (or) sixth-graders," said Meghan Waldron, who teaches freshmen at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md (Washington Post, May 15, 2004).' Last week one of my students asked what the word 'benefit' meant. This is typical. I kept a list of 'unknown words' through part of last year until I got so disgusted I threw it away. I do not know where the failure lies, but these kids are not being held to the same standards I was, either by my teachers or my parents. In my Integrated Physics and Chemistry classes they act like they have never used the metric system, and have no idea that speed=d/t. My geography students don't know the continents or oceans, although they have heard of the equator.
The problem is more than what they don't know, though. It is what they can't connect. Words apparently have no intrinsic meaning, because they can't connect equal and equator, or elevation and elevator. Apparently they are not held accountable for learning roots, prefixes or suffixes in elementary school. They look at me like I'm speaking Chinese when I ask them what the prefix sub means - as in submarine, subcontinent, etc. They are totally unable to relate words to each other; each word is a separate entity, a thing to itself with no meaning outside of the sentence its being used in.
I am not sure what the answers are. Texas has used state-wide testing as an accountability tool for several years, but judging by these kids it is a total failure. They have passed their tests, but don't know much about anything. It remains to be seen what will happen when these students can't pass the new, harder tests required for graduation. A large portion of the students will not graduate, and then what will we do?

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