Monday, March 12, 2007

They just don't care...

I had a bit of a hissy fit this past week while sitting in a data chat with Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin, Mrs. Standard (our district science consulting teacher), and Mrs. Hummingbird, going over the scores from our last benchmark. Fortunately, Mrs. Eagle and Mrs. Robin decided to "go hissy" with me.

Mrs. Standard, who has never taught middle school but who spent most of her career in high school, informed us that she analyzed all the various grade level scores district-wide and the problem seems to be in one area - seventh grade.

Well duh.

Anyone who has taught this age could tell you that they pretty much flat-line mentally for the seventh grade year. In fact, if you look at some of the latest research on brain development, it also indicates that there's a period of time in a child's life where their brain actually loses memory capacity. Interestingly enough, it coincides with the onset of puberty (those awful hormones) where the body is dealing with growth and change in such a heavy-handed way that the brain is almost to the point of being overwhelmed so it shuts down somewhat. In other words, seventh grade.

Mrs. Hummingbird, who talks faster than an auctioneer, and Mrs. Standard could not understand why our students did not do as well as expected on the latest benchmark. They analyzed the questions the kids missed and were amazed at the answers they chose most often. They knew we were covering the material, they'd been in our rooms and witnessed the kids respond and act like they knew the material, so it just didn't make sense that they did so badly. What on earth was the problem?

Simply put, they just don't care.

They don't care enough to read the questions on the test (as evidenced by the fact that many finished a 40 question test, with pictures and graphs galore, in ten minutes - faster than I could even read the silly thing). They don't care enough to mark up their test with highlighters and pencils in good test-taking style. Heck, they don't even care enough to put their name on the test.

Or, as one student said, "Is this test worth anything? Because if it's not, I'm really not going to bother to try."

The sad thing is, we can't grade them on these benchmarks - the best we can do is give them extra credit (big deal), and the kids know this. So, in their eyes, why bother? And especially, why bother for the third time this year?

Mrs. Standard put forth the idea that we should stop using scantron tests and have the students write on their tests and we can grade them manually. This way they'll get used to underlining key points and highlighting information and can narrow their options down and do better. Basically, Mrs. Robin, Mrs. Eagle and I would love to do this but the fact of the matter is 3,000 copies permitted per month (and double sided counts as two) means that all our copying would essentially end up being nothing but tests...At 3,000, I can only make 20 copies of things per month per kid...a test with all the graphics ends up being about 6 copies per kid, about every 2-3 weeks. Oh, and don't forget all the copies I have to make for my special ed kids and 504 kids who can't copy off the board, and who need to have things in front of them. It just isn't feasible to do that. (I also find it interesting that we go to all these in-services about ways to increase learning with all these special forms and graphic organizers...all of which need to be copied.)

"Well how about giving them sheets of plastic that they can put over the class set, and have them highlight and mark up, then clean them off?" was an idea that Mrs. Standard proposed.

I actually do this with my vocabulary tests as they are one pagers and can go into a sheet protector. Maybe 1/4 of the class might chose to mark up the test with the waterproof markers (which I provide), the rest really don't care. Those that do mark up the test also tend to get ink all over their hands, clothes, table, etc., and then have to spend time cleaning themselves and everything else up (with cleaning supplies provided by me, of course). I can only imagine what this would entail with every child doing it on a 6-8 page test. They'd have to stop and clean up in between each page.

"Well," Mrs. Standard finally asks, "why don't they care?"

"Why should they? They know they'll get promoted to 8th grade regardless, they know the test means nothing, they have no stake in it," I say.

"And their parents don't care enough to return phone calls, or come in, and don't appear to be the least bit upset about failing grades," said Mrs. Eagle.

"There's no consequence for failure," says Mrs. Robin. "So what if you fail? Nothing's going to happen. We go on and on about how they'll have to earn their way to the next grade in high school, but they don't care about that even. It's just foreign to them."

Quite honestly...until there are consequences for failure, most of these kids won't put forth an effort. And in the meantime, we're just raising our blood pressure.


Butterfly Angel said...

Hi Ms. Bluebird,

I can soooo relate ~ I teach Texas History to 7th graders! This is the ONLY time in their academic career that they get this class.

Fugetaboutit... They know there are NO consequences so they flew through my benchmark exam in record time. When they enter 8th grade next year, they will have to pass TAKS to go to ninth grade and Social Studies is tested.

It is interesting to see that school kids are pretty much the same no matter what part of the country they are in.

Just recently started reading your blog~ came by way of 'tense teacher.'

teachergirl said...

Same holds true for the 5th grade writing assessment we just gave; 120 minutes of pure misery for me. There are no consequences for failing this thing, so the kids really didn't care. Some of them tried to write their final draft during the portion designated "drafting time." I wanted to put my own eye out.

I can't wait to see how they fare when it's time to show what they know to get out of fifth grade. It is the same everywhere.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Whoa-- you just gave me a major flashback. I remember these conversations!

Oh, yeah, that's one of the reasons why I don't teach middle school any more.....

God bless you for sticking it out.

Darren said...

I'm sympathetic to your predicament, but what do you suggest? And whatever you suggest for these district assessments, will it also be applicable (and practical) on the statewide standardized tests?

Mrs. Bluebird said...

What I suggest is accountability on the student level. The state/district discourages retention so we just pass kids on, unprepared, only to fail in high school. I think students need to see actual consequences before they get to high other words, you don't pass on to the next grade until you earned it. (The district I worked at in Ohio did this). If it means failing half the seventh grade for a year or two, so be it. But these kids are learning that you don't have to do anything in this world...that you can just sit on your butt and nothing will happen. We won't solve the high school drop out problem until we look at it as a middle school problem too.

Mrs. T said...

Preachin' to the choir, Sista Friend.
Also why I no longer teach at middle school. Good for you for speaking up!

Princess Lionhead said...

I feel the same way!! We have similar tests, and I get the same responses from the kids. They have no drive to do well, since we can't grade them on it. What's the point, they ask? I don't know, maybe to see what you've learned! Who cares about that???

EHT said...

I'm here to tell you Georgia students flatline at fourth grade as well. We've been told that it has to be an extreme case such as attendance in order to put a student on the retention list because they have enough to deal with third and fifth graders who get caught by the test.

The apathy...the learned helplessness would disappear if we could hold their feet to the fire. Heck, I can't withhold recess as a consequence anymore because of the state law requiring 15 minutes. I don't have anything to use at my end.