To Cool To Try

A primary focus in my class this year has been teaching ninth graders to make deadlines and turn in their assignments on time. The main reason students fail my course is simply they do not turn work in on time, if at all. For example, our study of the Holocaust devoted 30 days to reading The Plot Against America. As a culminating task students created a character evolution timeline, which tracked one character through ten events in the story. The results were knowledgeable, creative and imaginative. Unfortunately, this assignment only had a 51% completion rate, which in turn had a negative impact on 49% of student grades.

End Cool Zone

For their next assignments, students were required to view three survivor testimonies, annotate their notes, then turn each testimony into a poem, piece of art, or an essay that tells the survivor’s story forward. The majority of students did not address the contest’s prompt when creating their work. These projects were graded on student effort, students who read the contest rules and followed the directions were awarded 95 points, those who missed one element got 85 points and those who missed two or more elements got 75 points. Late work was awarded 60 points.

Sixty percent of students turned in poems and received the following grades: 69 Fs (40% incompletion rate), 3 Ds, 24 Cs, 27 Bs, and 48 As. For poems, 89 students turned in video notes, which were worth 50 points and 81 students did not (48% incompletion rate).

Sixty-five percent of students turned in Art entries and received 59 Fs (35% incompletion rate), 2 Ds, 34 Cs, 30 Bs, and 46 As.  Only 88 students chose to turn in their video notes, 83 students (48% incompletion rate) did not turn in the required notes on a Holocaust survivor’s testimony.

Lastly, fifty-eight percent of students turned in Essay entries: 72 Fs (42% incompletion rate), 3 Ds, 18 Cs, 31 Bs, and 46 As. Only 55 students turned in notes from the survivor’s video testimony, while 77 (58% incompletion rate) students did not.

Considering the information above, it is not surprising that in the final grade distribution only 10% were As, 25% were Bs, 27% were Cs, 17% were Ds and 21% were Fs. What is surprising is how these grades cluster period by period. Most comprehensive high schools “track” students with Honors & AP programs. Thus, it is not surprising that the highest percentages of As and Bs occurred in Honors classes. What is particularly dispiriting in looking at the “regular” classes is that two of them contain majorities (66% & 51%) of students who are now ineligible for admission to a University of California.  Further, research from the MRDC indicates that more than 40% of ninth grade students fail to promote to the tenth grade on time and fewer than 20% of those students recover from failure and graduate from high school.

Ninth Grade Academies are designed to support the transition to high school by creating interdisciplinary teacher teams that have students and planning times in common. These teachers work to coordinate their courses to better meet their students’ needs. I wonder if my colleagues have similar work completion and course passage rates. How can our NGA better prepare students to complete their assignments and make deadlines instead of making excuses?


Final Grade Distribution by %

  A B C D F
P1 26 40 11 17 6
P2 11 46 32 11 0
P4 3 9 22 28 38
P5 9 9 31 11 40
P6 3 20 37 20 20

My overall course passage rate was 79%, which means my course failure rate was 21%. Overall, this isn’t bad, however, my lowest achieving class periods have course failure rates of 62% and 60% respectively. I suspect that these students have been “tracked” and the culture they have developed of not caring about grades is greater than one teacher can overcome. Nevertheless, in the Spring semester, I will double my efforts to engage these students.

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