Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Grade Reversal

I'm collecting anecdotes!

Specifically about cases in which smart students are getting lower grades than their classmates. 

Perhaps they aren't explaining their answers to math problems.

Perhaps they don't do well with the arts & crafts/"creativity" components of English and social studies assignments.

Perhaps they don't cooperate well in group assignments.

Perhaps they participate insufficiently in class discussions.

Perhaps their classrooms are too cluttered and chaotic for them to concentrate.

Perhaps they are overwhelmed by big, interdisciplinary projects and multi-step directions.

Perhaps they are too uninspired to "go that extra mile" that top grades require.

And perhaps the actual academic requirements in math, science, writing, etc., are so low that they have no way to exhibit their strengths.

Whatever your child's story is, please share it here.


bky said...

Lefty -- I have read your blog long enough to understand the difficulty your son has in school and your complaints about school in general. When I read what other kids go through in school I am glad that I homeschool my kids. We don't have those kinds of problems. (We have other kinds of problems instead.)

Having said that I will be leary of any anecdotes you collect under the heading "My Kid Is Too Smart to Get Good Grades."

When I finally got to college I felt somewhat handicapped by a sort of laziness that lead me to pick and choose what to work hard on. It is easy to devalue certain classes of assignments if the immediate consequences seem sufferable. The handful of college kids that I met who always put full effort into every assignment were the kids that seemed heading into higher levels of success. Eventually you don't have to do everything people tell you to do, but if you are in a situation where other people control the agenda, to some extent (I will rely heavily on these weasel words to fend of any and all attacks), to some extent you have to fish or cut bait. (My family has opted to cut bait and go our own way. Don't tread on me, etc.)

Anonymous said...

I agree somewhat with what bky says, you have to learn to, uh, suck up to succeed.

My kids were homeschooled until they went to college, and my son, now an engineering major, would have died with the kind of math they teach, and he was never good at writing. It would have been torture to make him write out a particular type of explanation on how he arrived at his answer. Now he is straight-A student in mostly engineering courses. My daughter is graduating honors and phi beta kappa from a prestigious school. But she has had experiences with rather weird teachers and requirements and group work and professors with personal problems taking them out with student grades etc etc. These people held her grade hostage, so to speak, so she conformed where and when needed, because the grades were important to her future. The issue isn't necessarily putting full effort into every assignment, at least in more subjective fields than engineering, it is knowing when not taking the position the professor wants, or doing something the way the teacher wants, whether you agree or not, will affect your grades, and when it is safe to go your own way.

On the other hand, my husband is the epitome of going his own way and doing what he know is right, regardless of the consequences, and stating his own opinions, and thus he is unemployed. So you have to learn to suck up in the workplace too. Even when you put in your full effort and do your job exceptionally well.

So it is important to learn to conform sometimes when other people control the agenda, the grades, whether you get tenure or rehired the next year...

However, with my kids, they learned to do what they needed to do, when they had to, when they were older. It did not have to happen at a young age, when they were not experienced in dealing with others and their expectations and inconsistencies and wrong ideas and evaluating how to fit another's agenda with your own.

So when they were growing up, a good education was more important than understanding the psychology of those in charge of your future. Learning how and when to conform came later (fortunately)

But it is not possible for everyone to cut bait and go their own way, and it is a great sacrifice - had I worked when they were school age, they might not have needed to borrow money for college and start their careers in debt. Or we might not be struggling financially.

I get asked sometimes - if my kids learn math a different way out of school, if I supplement their math, will it confuse him with the math he learns in school. No, it won't mess up his understanding of math, and it would be far better that he actually learn math well, but you will have to teach him when to do it how the teacher wants, and when to do it a better way.

So, maybe there are different kinds of smarts.

Suzi said...

My son, who tested into college calculus at 14, went to first grade able to add and subtract three digit numbers in his head, including carrying. He was making Bs in first grade math and the teacher refused to give him enrichment work because he was using the 0 to 9 number line (because she told him to and he was trying hard to be a good student).

lefty said...

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts on this. Here's the extreme example I'm concerned about: a bright math buff who's so turned off to Reform Math, and Reform Math teachers, that he won't play by the rules. He refuses to explain his answers, or do easy problems, or participate in most classroom activities, and gets really low grades in math. His parents aren't able, or willing, to force him to do the work, or to pull him out and homeschool him. Then, because he lives in a city in which all the decent high schools are magnets with selective admissions, those bad grades limit him to the really lousy local high school. Perhaps he drops out; in any case, his low grades continue, and his chances at college are severely compromised. A generation ago he might have ended up as a top-flight mathematician; now, I worry, he may end up in the streets. An extreme example, perhaps, but, unfortunately, not entirely implausible, and I shudder to think how many not so extreme examples there are out there.

Anonymous said...

I think reform math is a mistake, don't get me wrong, but your scenario is awfully extreme. Indifferent parents and a rebellious student gifted in math ignored year after year after year? The school failed him, but his parents failed him too, and he failed himself. Sounds like there are other issues than just math and how it is taught.

Anonymous said...

I taught science and math in an alternative program in California. I had my students do science fair projects and one of the kids came in with a fly tied to a popcycle and called it a flycycle. He used it to test sugar concentrations. He had the fly grasp a loop of paper with sugar and then counted the number of times the fly stuck its tongue out by videotaping it. It caught quite a few people's attention and eventually he finished fourth in California. The initial project title was: How to make a better flypaper.

Two people he eventually met were Dr. Wilson and Dr. Keeling who asked if he was interested in working at Scripps. He was in eighth grade at the time and they had a dinner in his honor.

All through elementary school this kid had spent most of his time under a desk avoiding the other kids. He was involved in quite a few fights. So that's why his parents and him decided to try a smaller school. He had very low grades.

The story ended alright however, he graduated, decided to become an Eagle scout and not work in the lab as I had hoped he would. He never got anymore recognition from the other teachers, in fact they criticized him for never turning in any work. His second project he never quite made it work right - he was interested in carbon dioxide and the gas is pretty difficult to work with.

I was always trying to convince him to try something he was more familiar with, like how flies taste. So he went on to city college and majored in physics, so I thought that was cool.

This class was something, because we also had three kids attend UCSD - a future mechanical engineer (with extremely poor handwriting), a computer programmer (& heavy metal musician) and a future psychologist (who's family broke up during high school after the father passed away from a long. illness. She lived with a friends family and was my only calculas students. All four students did well in university and remained close friends throughout school.

Anonymous said...

"And perhaps the actual academic requirements in math, science, writing, etc., are so low that they have no way to exhibit their strengths."

My ten year old fifth grader is gifted in language arts. She has been reading at a high school/college level since entering third grade. In third, fourth and fifth grades, her report card for reading indicate 3 (basic) in the fall 4 (proficient) in March and June. The teachers have decided maximum grade levels for each marking period.

Her lexile levels peak in the fall and decline through the school year. They increase over the summer. So, her reading grade is inversely correlated to her reading performance. That, and there is no way for her to demonstrate her abilities in class with third, fourth or fifth grade reading materials.

...That is, unless you count reading novels under her desk most of the school day.

Cranberry said...

Group work in science--not just labs. The teacher admitted to our child that for each group assignment, she chose one report from one member of the group (4-5 kids). The entire group received that child's grade. As the groups were heterogeneous, the ability level--and thus the quality of the reports varied wildly. Students with good social skills were frequently assigned to work with the most "difficult" students.

If you work it out, on the group work section of the grade, any child's grade reflected their work only 20 - 25 % of the time. At best.