Addressing The Fs

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • Dec
  • 09
  • 2005

Our administration presented some data about failing students to the staff at the inservice meeting last week and called it “‘F’ This.” Catchy title. Essentially, a large percentage of our students are failing and the thought is that there are things we could do to rech those kids, easy things and difficult things. This week, we met in departments to create plans to address the failure rate within our departments. Some goals were to be immediately possible, some should be done by the end of this school year, and some were to be more long term. We even had some room to dream big (we suggested not starting any classes until after 8:30am as a way to address the F rate, something that I’m sure will never happen in this district).

How About You?

Before I go any further, what suggestions do you have? How can schools decrease the F rate, yet still maintain high expectations and challenge students with rigorous, college-prepatory curriculum? Leave a comment and let’s see if we can change the world.

Here’s the plan the English department put together.

To Be Accomplished Immediately

Post and announce tutoring hours to all classes, perhaps with an emphasis on making sure those failing students are aware of those hours.

To Be Accomplished Before End of the Second Semester

Failing students will be given a chance to show their writing skills through an additional evaluation. If the score is high enough on that evaluation (the score should be based on how effectively the student demonstrates mastery of the appropriate state standards) and the student shows that s/he knows how to write, that student may be given the chance at a D- for showing that competency, even though it is shown so late in the game.

Additionally, conferences with failing students will take place. The goal is to create something like a grade contract to determine what’s necessary to earn a passing grade and to see if second semester performance can improve the first semester grade.

To Be Accomplished by Year’s End

We have been planning to open a writing lab in an available computer lab (we plan to make extensive use of Purdue’s OWL). The idea for now is to open it to students recommended by English teachers only, with the hopes that English teachers will have strong ideas on exactly what should be done during that student’s time in the writing lab. This will help us develop a form that can be used by the entire staff to send students to the lab, but that won’t happen until next school year. We’ll use the second semester as a way to test out how to make the lab work for the entire school.

While this doesn’t directly address failing students in our English classes, one of our teachers created a CAHSEE prep class and that will be offered on Thursdays after school. Each 5-week session will be targeted at a different group, with seniors who have not passed the test being the first group to be offered the class. We’re hoping that working with students on the skills they need to pass the CAHSEE will also help them on the skills they need to pass their English classes.

To Be Accomplished By The 2006-2007 School Year

That writing lab I just mentioned will be available for any teacher to send students down who need more work on specific writing skills, regardless of content area.

To Be Accomplished With The Help Of The District Office

While it’s a bit of a stretch to think in terms of what the DO can do for us (I don’t know about your school system, but I typically do not see the DO as a resource to affect my teaching), a source of money to provide software for the writing lab could pop up through DO communication. We also all have access to a database of student test scores, but we can only see our current year students. If I was able to see how students I had last year performed on standardized tests, I could tell if what I taught reflected in those scores and that could tell me whether or not how I addressed those tests was effective. I do not have access to that data currently and it would be helpful if I did. Someone at the DO-level should be able to provide that clearance for interested teachers.

Things We Don’t Have Control Over

Changing the start time of the school day came up as a possible way to lessen the amount of Fs. Research suggests that the adolescent mind is physiologically set to start the day at a much later time than school begins (this isn’t research, but it’s an interesting opinion; The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Education World, and a site called Elites TV [which I don’t know a thing about and don’t give them much credence] discuss issues surrounding this topic). There are so many other things that fit into this category, though. Parental attitude toward school, home environment, student relationships (what the kids now call “drama”), peer influence, the list goes on.

Your Turn

Are you doing something that works to give failing kids another chance to succeed? Do you have any thoughts on what schools should do to help students who are failing? Capture your ideas with a comment.

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