J2 Content – Perspectives

A varied collection of thoughts on education and parenting

If You Only Knew

Last week was the end of a long school year. And as I head into the summer, I keep asking myself ‘did it really matter?’

Next year’s class lists are all set, pending the results of state examinations. Barring any surprises, I could tell you who will be in my classroom, who will be in the accelerated pull out, and who has been tagged as a risk to our district’s funding. Not surprisingly, the groupings are the same as they were last year. In fact, we began the process of dividing the student body into groups for the 2011-2012 school year as early as February.

To an extent, this makes sense. Students who perform at a particular level relative to the peers tend to do so month to month and year to year, with little deviation. But, I’ve spent the last two months wondering if that’s a direct result of the expectations we have for them.

The sad truth is that the students who are identified as low achievers in our district, will carry that tag regardless of the grades on their report cards or test scores. High classroom grades are informally perceived as the result of low expectations or soft grading on the part of the teacher. Possibly the student will receive credit for being the best of a sorry lot. But, even if the student were to earn a perfect score on the state test, she won’t be moved into an honors class. She was tagged back in Grade 2, and this will be her label thoughout her schooling. The best she can do is move up to “college prep”.

On the other hand, honors students with the parents who pushed to get them into the gifted program had better watch out. Our guidance team will comb over each of their report cards and test scores, looking for an excuse to drop them into the mainstream track. This strengthens the middle and culls the weak from the advanced class. As it is, 28% of our sixth grade students were in what are considered advanced classes. That’s four sections of Mathematics and five of Language Arts. I guarantee you that there will only be 3 sections of each by the time they reach eighth grade.

Weighing most heavily on my mind this summer are some of the comments made about student placement in our second to last staff meeting. Our lead guidance counselor spoke openly of his resentment of parent pressures on scheduling decisions, effectively saying that the parents should stay out of the process. In this era of rubrics and selection indices, the teachers in my district believe more in a less transparent, more subjective system. We know who the good (and not-so-good) kids are, and from what I hear and see, it looks like we go with our guts over the rubrics more often than we should.

There’s something wrong about hoping your low achievers don’t score too highly on the state test and disrupt the schedules made mid-year. There’s something equally troubling about giving unequal attention to the performance of the student body.

I would call for you all to be more involved in and aware of you children’s placement processes, but I know too well the repercussions you’ll face: increased scrutiny of your chlid’s work and a negative label for your whole family. I’m certainly no saint, and I’ve resented the input of involved parents on more than one occasion, but that’s nothing compared to what I’ve seen go on behind closed doors.

So what’s the answer? Probably to take your lumps and advocate for your child. You just need to ensure that from that point on you and your child follow through. If you ask for extra opportunities, you had best seize them. If you request support, you had best make full use of it. There are countless eyes looking to use you as a means of deflecting all criticism leveled at the process.

Educator x has been teaching related arts classes at a mid-size, suburban middle school since 2002.

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