What is the best way to handle a high school teacher who just seems to—no matter what my child does—view her as a B student? It’s her French class, and the class has many exams that are subjective. For instance, rubrics for oral presentations and written work differentiates between A’s and B’s by work being “very organized” and “organized,” or “often uses complex sentences” and just “uses complex sentences.” My child asks for feedback on her work, and she’s (noticeably to the teacher) making an effort in class. The feedback she gets is as elusive as the rubrics—not very detailed, and it’s not clear how to do “more” of what the teacher describes, since my child is already doing it.
My child has always been a straight-A student, and she’s incredibly stressed by this class, which she’s currently getting a B in. She’s meeting with her teacher again. What exactly should my child say? And is it appropriate for me to have a meeting with the teacher about this? Don’t teachers want students to succeed?
The teacher made a comment to me in a conference that my child “is a B student,” (which I have not told my child), and I can’t help but think the teacher just has my child pegged this way, and that nothing she does will change the teacher’s mind. It’s incredibly frustrating. Kids often switch teachers at the semester, though she’s not due to with her current schedule—should we try for this?
—Frustrated in French
Dear Frustrated in French,
Bonjour! This is an incredibly difficult question. I’m tempted to stand on my soap box about how okay a “B” is and that it’s fantastic to be challenged in a course. I teach a lot of “straight-A” students in my AP Capstone course, and mostly I pity them. Either they’re not challenged enough in most of their other classes or they work themselves ragged for a grade rather than for learning.
But I think I’ve made that argument before in this column and there’s an important nuance here: wondering if a teacher has pre-judged you. There’s a feeling of powerlessness when you don’t know why an authority figure is disregarding you or even picking on you for what feels like no reason at all. It’s natural to speculate how personal a teacher’s scoring is when things go wrong. But, from the teacher side of things, I believe that this problem is (or should) be very rare. There are very few students in my whole career that I flat-out disliked, and even then I was able to deal with them as a professional: concealing those feelings and working to be objective.
That’s why I think that seeking a schedule change is a totally valid option here. Teachers and students are people and sometimes people just don’t get along. While you’re totally within your rights to have a conference with this teacher and to try and get some concrete feedback, it sounds like they just aren’t providing that or they’re having trouble articulating what your child needs to do to make that transition from moderate success to excelling.
Seeking another teacher will also give you and your daughter a chance to see how she does under someone else. If she’s still struggling, then it may be time to reevaluate what the issue is (Does she need tutoring? Is French just not her subject?), or if the issue exists at all (I’m just gonna be that guy: B’s are nothing to be ashamed of).
—Mr. Vona (high school teacher, Florida)
Want Advice From Care and Feeding?
Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)
My son is a sophomore at our large public high school. It is a competitive school in a similarly competitive school district. The vast majority of students are college bound, and the pressure can be intense. My son is on an honors/AP track, and for the most part, he seems capable of keeping up at this level. He finished his freshman year with straight A’s.
However, he is having some issues that I think reflect his struggle to adapt to the high school honors level expectations, especially as Covid forgiveness becomes more of a thing of the past. The biggest issue seems to be staying focused for long enough to get his work done well. He complains every day that he has loads of homework, but he spends maybe an hour a day doing it (usually much less). He chills for a bit after getting home from school, eventually opens up his work, and anything not done by dinner time just isn’t getting done that day. On the weekends, he always says he’s going to devote some serious time to catching up/getting ahead, but again, after about an hour’s worth of work, he taps out and says he’s fried for the day and just can’t focus anymore. While I can sympathize and have learned that trying to force the issue doesn’t actually do anything but start fights, his current level of effort isn’t enough to keep up at this level. He’s getting the big stuff done, but he’s doing a half-assed job on many of his assignments, and it’s starting to show.
He was diagnosed with ADHD in second grade but has managed it non-medically for years. When I broached the subject of looking into medication, he balked and won’t even talk to a doctor about it. He hates the very idea of taking something that might “mess with his mind.” And yet…he constantly complains that he just can’t focus long enough to get the work done. I care more about his mental health than his grades, so we’ve been hesitant to push too much. However, I do worry that his slacking off is going to have a real impact on his grades and will ultimately limit his options post-high school. And poor grades aren’t great for his mental health either. Any tips for helping him find a way to focus after 3:30 pm? And how do I balance allowing him to face the short-term natural consequences of his actions (poor grades) with wanting to protect him from the longer term natural consequences of those poor grades piling up? Thanks for any suggestions.
—Homework Attitude Adjustment
Dear Homework Attitude Adjustment,
I love that you value mental health over grades, but I definitely agree that bad grades do not make for a peaceful mind. I’m neither a doctor nor anyone with any experience with ADHD, so I won’t speak on that, but my favorite tip for studying and homework success is the 20-minute rule.
I’ve heard a lot of students who have success with various forms of the 20-minute rule, wherein a student works/studies for fifteen minutes and then takes a five-minute break. Obviously, he can adjust the times to whatever works for him, but the core concept is the same: take breaks! After a long day at school, his fuse is short. I know I don’t want to work after I get home. After 8+ hours, I can’t do much more than an hour of writing.
When it comes to shielding him from consequences: don’t! We need consequences to learn, and he’s at just the right age to get a few bad grades and figure out how to fix that problem. I’ve heard too many stories of students whose parents or teachers pushed them through high school only to fail out of a college that they never should have been at in the first place, or that they never developed the coping skills to succeed at.
You’re right that forcing will likely result in a fight. You can give him advice on medication, how to work smarter, and his habits, but ultimately making any changes is up to him.
—Mr. Vona (high school teacher, Florida)
Slate needs your support right now. Sign up for Slate Plus to keep reading the advice you crave every week.
I just heard that my 7-year-old second grader’s school would like to screen him for a gifted program. What are the pros and cons of having kids participate in a program like this? For what it’s worth, our particular program in the Philadelphia suburbs is called PEN (Program for Enrichment), and the email said, “The district screening and identification process is based on the Chapter 16 regulations for gifted students.” What specific questions should I ask my child’s teacher to learn more about this?
First, there’s nothing to lose in allowing your child to be screened. Even if they are identified as gifted, you can opt out of any services offered, and gathering information is almost always a good idea. If your child is identified as gifted, you’ll want to ask about the program they are offering in great detail. You’ll want to know:
1. What is being taught?
2. When is it being taught?
3. What data can they provide on the long-term efficacy of the instruction?
4. What will your child miss in their regular education classroom while receiving their gifted instruction?
5. How will the regular education instruction that your child will miss be covered?
I would also ask the parents of students in the program what their impression is. A highly skilled teacher of gifted children can make for an enormously enriching experience for children, but I am also aware of situations where students would prefer to remain in their regular education classroom because the gifted teacher was less than ideal.
Most importantly, make your decision based on your child’s needs and not any perception that being labeled as gifted confers any status or prestige on you or your child. Parents can sometimes get aggressive in their attempts to get their child labeled as gifted, thinking this will give them an advantage moving forward. While receiving specialized instruction can enrich your child’s school day, being labeled as gifted in no way guarantees smooth sailing for your child.
In the end, hard work almost always wins the day, regardless of a student’s talents.
—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)
My third grader, Jack, was diagnosed with ADHD at the end of first grade. Our school assesses children via a program on a tablet three times a year. Last year my son’s scores showed him at kindergarten level for much of ELA and either first grade or grade level for math. At the end of the year, he had improved significantly in all areas and was on grade level for many of the assessment areas. I was very pleased and over the summer, he was in a literacy and math program for six weeks and we read at home together and encouraged writing.
At his IEP meeting last month they showed me his assessment scores for this year, and they had all declined. He is now at kindergarten level for some ELA subjects, and below grade level on almost all others. He also declined in math, which has always been his strongest subject. I was confused by his decline and his low scores in subjects such as reading comprehension and vocabulary, where he’s typically been strong. They said that he has good reading comprehension when things are read to him, but not when he reads it himself. He is a really slow reader, but I’ve never seen him not understand what he reads. I often question him about the books he reads to me and have had him write mini reports about the books to make sure he is understanding.
I asked them about any testing bias on the assessment they used, and they said the scores might not be completely accurate for a kid with ADHD or a learning disability—they may have had a bad day or forgot their medicine, but they didn’t seem concerned that the assessment was wrong. I asked for their thoughts on why his scores would decline in four months, but they didn’t really give me an answer.
After our meeting, I started working with him more at home. I printed out reading comprehension passages and tests at different grade levels and found lists of vocabulary he should know as well as math worksheets on areas he scored low on. I also enrolled him in lessons on Outschool, and he’s doing really great on all of the work.
My question is, are there assessments designed specifically for kids with ADHD or learning disabilities that will accurately test their knowledge? His IEP and special education material is based on these test scores, but they aren’t reflective of what he knows! Our Outschool teachers didn’t have any knowledge about assessments or standardized tests, and I doubt our school does either since they didn’t seem very concerned at the meeting. I reached out to the board but their response was mostly talking in circles without giving me any answer. I am really frustrated. I try to just forget about it because I know he knows the material, but I really want him to be able to show that to the school.
—Teaching to the Test
Unfortunately, there are not any tests specifically designed for students with ADHD—or at least none that I’ve ever heard of.
I have two questions. First: what does the assessment test? At my current school, most of our reading assessments are decoding assessments. That means they aren’t necessarily concerned with reading comprehension, but how many correct words a student reads out of a passage, how quickly, with what kind of prosody (that’s the tone of your voice and phrasing—think about the difference between a human reader and that weird TikTok robot voice), etc.
Decoding fluency is vital to becoming a strong readers, but it doesn’t correlate to whether a student understands what they read. If the assessment is a decoding assessment, all the supports you’ve given him are wonderful, but not targeted to the skill that they are assessing. Fortunately, decoding fluency isn’t the end goal of reading, and by third or fourth grade, it typically becomes less of the focus. Teachers call this the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”—the focus shifts to using reading as a tool to build comprehension, literary criticism, etc. It sounds like comprehension is a relative strength for your son! That means this shift will be good for him.
My second question is: does your son receive accommodations for his assessments? Does he get extra time, or untimed tests? Many students with ADHD do better when they are untimed because they aren’t as anxious. I would bring these concerns to the IEP team and ask what accommodations they recommend for supporting your son with testing specifically.
Unfortunately, there is no assessment that can account for bad days or days without meds. Many times, in special ed, we prefer multiple smaller data points rather than one big assessment to avoid that very issue. If you do ten shorter reading assessments, after all, you’re less likely to be affected by one bad day.
Make sure when you hold the next IEP meeting that you check how often his goals are being monitored and how often that progress is being reported to you. Even if you only receive progress reports 3 times a year (which is standard at my school), IEP goals are often measured more frequently (ours are either biweekly or monthly). You can always request updates more often to help monitor his growth using these smaller measures that are not as impacted by one off day or the other issues with that bigger test.
—Ms. Sarnell (early childhood special education teacher, Colorado)
More Advice From Slate
My 13-year-old son is, for lack of a better term, “extremely online.” He has a few social media accounts that I have the password to, but have never really looked into his behavior on those because we never had a reason to. Well, the reason has arrived. It appears he’s been bullying another boy at school via one of the social media apps, calling him “retarded” and making jokes about the other boy’s mother. I am, of course, horrified. What should I do?