Homework in Middle School
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Homework in Middle School
Our 6th grade daughter was tested by the school for ADD
because she has had trouble with concentration and focus
(not ADHD). Homework has been a battle since day 1 of
Kindergarten. She is intelligent and creative, and does
reasonably well on tests and quizzes if she understands the
material. She went through testing with school counselors
who found her too high-functioning to qualify for an IEP or
504 plan. This means that the testing won't be on her record
and we'll have to jump through hoops with her teachers for
the rest of her school career. Her teachers have sidestepped
my requests to adapt the homework load - everything must be
finished, everything must be made up, before she qualifies
for a grade on the item. The school is known for its
rigorous curriculum; it happens to be our neighborhood
school. Between math and core classes she is expected to do
between 2.5 and 4 hours of work a night - on top of a 7-hour
school day. It has stretched out till 10 pm. She has great
difficulty following directions so it's very hard to help
her make up assignments - the teacher keeps insisting she
writes them down incorrectly but, hey, can we get a
syllabus? no. Is the teacher available to help her figure
the assignments out? No.
Today she was given a busywork assignment that was such a
blatant waste of time I nearly cried. She's already getting
an F in this subject and... it adds up to several hours
worth of coloring. I am all for coloring. I know she loves
art. But this kind of assignment adds nothing to her
understanding of the subject. ANY subject.
Daughter loves her school (because she doesn't know any
better), likes her teachers, loves her friends, is
interested in the class material. But the homework is just
too much, and we can no longer drag her through every
assignment every day and every weekend. Should we just
resign ourselves to accepting F's till the ''executive
functions kick in with maturity'' as the counselor suggested?
Should we appeal to the district? Is there any agency that
offers outside testing affordably? We are under-employed so
can't afford much.
Would appreciate any insight folks can offer.
Dazed and Confused
My daughter went through this and we battled BUSD for 3 years,
finally getting an attorney and winning. She now has an IEP at BHS
and doing better than ever before when she was asked to do work far
beyond her capacity to organize. I am glad to talk with you off line
to help know how to navigate some of this with school district and
with your daughter. Notthat we have done great, but we have learned
a lot along the way since first grade when problems with focus and
attention started to become problems.
I empathize with you and your daughter for the homework situation
that you describe. I remember the countless hours my daughter spent
on assignments that seemed like silly busywork. It is extremely
frustrating to have to work so hard in terms of the time it takes on
something that doesn't even seem like an enriching learning
experience. And then the added frustration of not having the
cooperation of her teachers to provide your daughter with a syllabus
that helps your daughter keep track of assignments makes it even
more challenging. Have you tried to talk to the school principal
The demands made on your daughter in terms of the amount of homework
she'll have in school will only get more demanding as time goes on
if she's at a typical k-12 school. Waiting for executive function to
kick in doesn't sound like an effective means of addressing the
frustration you're feeling, or of getting your daughter the help she
needs to turn in her work, completed, and on time.
Having a third party to help always seemed to work for us. I know
you said you don't have a lot of resources for outside help but
maybe you could try finding an academically inclined teenager to
help her a few times a week? Or form a kind of informal homework
study hour with a buddy from school who is working on the same
assignment? If she's working on busywork at least she can have
company while she gets it done.
It sounds like she's going to need some support to get through the
demands of school and you may need to keep trying different things
to see what works for her. It is frustrating but don't give up!
Hang in there!
Was there a complete assessment for special education and 504, a
meeting to discuss the results and information about what to do if
you disagree? If so, and you believe your daughter needs services or
support, you may write a letter to the district saying that you do
not agree with its assessments and will be getting an Independent
Educational Evaluation at district expense. It sounds like she
should qualify for a 504 plan to make accommodations for her
homework. Please feel free to contact me for more information about
Contact DREDF. If her ADD is so severe that the homework is taking 4
hours a night she should be eligible for a 504 plan. Also, odd as
this sounds, if she is failing the class your case is strengthened.
My heart broke when I read your post. My now 19-year-old son
struggled with the same issues throughout middle school and high
school. He was finally diagnosed with ADD as a high school
sophomore and went on Adderall but the school environment was so
negative that he ended up quitting and taking his GED. I wish I
could tell you that his ''executive functions kicked in with
maturity.'' He has taken some community college courses but
struggles with organizational skills and boredom with the mundane
homework. What I would do if I could do it all over again is
homeschool him. He seemed to like his school and the thought of
homeschooling was very unappealing to me. I had a much younger
child at home, was not well physically, and honestly needed him to
go to school. Yet I have heard stories from others who had similar
struggles with bright underachievers who blossomed in a home
learning environment with the support of a home-school network. The
other thing I wish I had known was about the nutritional factors
that exacerbate ADD. I am now studying holistic nutrition, and I
have spent the last 5 years healing from celiac disease. Recent
research indicates that celiac disease and various food additives
(glutamates, food colorants) may play a role in neurological
disorders like ADD. Not all celiac sufferers have the typical
gastrointestinal symptoms. I urge you to seek the help of an
integrative physician who can test your daughter for celiac and food
sensitivities and look outside the box to treat her ADD. ( I'm
hoping to get my son to agree to celiac testing and diet changes,
though 19 year olds are not known for heding the advice of their
well-meaning parents.) As far as the school environment, I'm
disgusted with the direction our schools are heading in terms of
busywork homework. It serves our future bean counters well but
creative thinkers, not so much. If my daughter faces a similar
situation at her school (we have since moved away from my son's
district) you'd better believe I'll be searching for a better
environment, even if it's home schooling.
Wish I knew then what I know now
In reading your problem with the ''rigorous'' school, these items
stand out: 1) the school claims your daughter is the problem (she
does not qualify for any exceptions due to a disability), 2) your
daughter has always had issues with homework (not specified -
perhaps those issues have changed over the years), 3) if a student
falls behind in his/her studies, everything must be made-up, no
exceptions, which means that eventually no student no matter how
''bright'' can overcome the incompletes, and 4) teachers are not
available for office hours for students - it's sink or swim, plus
the teachers will not produce a written outline of the course so you
can anticipate and plan.
The most damning statement here is that this ''rigorous'' school
So now ask yourself this: ''What kind of rigorous school assigns
busywork and useless assignments, doesn't provide any syllabus or
course planner for students, doesn't provide any instruction outside
of the class and lets a student fail due to incompletes''?
I'll tell you what the answer is - a school in crisis.
It is not rigorous - it is simply trying to keep students and
parents rushing on a madly accelerating treadmill, hoping that
worthless (to them) students fall off and solve the school's
problems for them.
What are the school's problems? Budget cuts, too many students, too
few instructors, you name it. The school doesn't care about your
child - they care about their jobs and NCLB and STAR and money.
Anybody who doesn't keep up (like your kid) is a liability - not an
asset - and you are a liability to them. Accept it.
So take responsibility - home school. Take her out of school. Take a
break from this madness. And realize it took years for her to work
into this anxiety of busywork and race to the bottom and it will
take time to work her out of it. It's not about money - it's about
I did it with my son in 6th grade. He's at UCLA now. After a time he
did go back to middle school and did well. All he really needed was
a break from the bad habits instantiated by failing. I wouldn't let
him fail, but I wouldn't let him ''pass'' until he succeeded. I
figured we had the time. The school won't.
Take ownership of the problem and stop trying to work with a system
that will subvert the solution. You will be glad you did.
So sorry to hear of yet another family going through what all of us
with kids with ADD/ADHD run into at some point. You are not alone.
You are not crazy. Your daughter is not going to be stuck in this
same spot forever. Trust me I thought my son would never get there
and he has just been accepted to several good 4 year universities.
He struggled through a very academic middle school (w/an iep to wade
through busy work & help organize etc.) He now is a Sr. in a tough
public school. B+ ave. no iep anymore. Spent 2 1/2 yrs/ of HS at a
small private school to actaully be able to do the good work he is
capable of. It was scary to switch but worth it. Public schools
almost always neglect to tell parents that their child can qualify
for services ( I.E.P. or 504 plan, general ed accomadations) under
the ''other health impaired'' catagory. I am pretty sure this is
still the case. Typically a diagnosis by a psychiatrist is all
that's required. no messing w/point gap between IQ and working
ability that necessitates complete failure.Keep asking questions.
Keep an open mind. Change things up if you need to. Be kind to the
teachers & do not back down.
I suggest you become very, very persistent in making your concerns
heard. Go to the vice principal, principal, district however far you
need to go to get this resolved. Consider transferring schools or
asking to be moved into another class. Unfortunately, the only way
to get heard sometimes is to be a complete pest. I hate to advise
this, because I would so much prefer to be polite in this kind of
situation, and I know they have plenty of problems to deal with.
However, when I was polite before, my kid got stuck in a bad
situation. The next time a similar situation came up, I just kept
showing up at the counselor's and vice principal's offices until
they fixed it.
You may also want to consider private testing, or redoing the public
Your post could have been mine several years ago. My son is in high
school now, maturing slowly, but with the same severe problems with
organization and short-term memory. I am a teacher and have seen
many of these ''screenings'' for ADHD done by the school come out,
in my opinion, totally off base. The screening tools used by the
schools can be inadequate. Knowing this, I had my son tested (paid
out of my own pocket) and he was diagnosed with ADD-Inattentive.
This does not look like what you think of as typical hyperactivity.
We had him try several different medications, and finally ended up
with one that seems to help the most without changing who he is.
Take your daughter to the pediatrician and tell her/him your
concerns. Try some medication; you will not regret it. The worst
thing I did was wait too long. It is hard to help your child rid
him/herself of feelings of frustration and inadequacy regarding the
completion of tasks that her/his friends are capable of doing, not
because they are smarter, but because they can focus.
My 9th grade, ADDish daughter has always struggled with homework-
although things have begun to improve recently. Executive
functioning finally kicking in? Her wonderful therapist? I don't
know, but it is a relief. I hope she will keep up the good work!
We have been extremely happy with her two (5 th grade and 9 th
grade) neuropsychology evaluations at the UC Berkeley Psychology
Clinic at Tolman Hall. They charge on a sliding scale, and while not
inexpensive, it is a fraction of the cost of an evaluation by a
I'm so sorry to hear about what you have been going through. First
of all, if you're not already familiar with it, I highly recommend
you check out the CHADD website at http://www.chadd.org. Secondly,
a 504 and an IEP are very different. There is much more latitude in
obtaining a 504 than an IEP. My experience as a parent and teacher
has been that many schools don't test for ADD. Our district
recommends that families start with their pediatricians who then
refer to psychologists/psychiatrists for diagnosis/testing. Some
insurance plans, such as Kaiser, will cover testing.
The testing my son received (paid for by our insurance) was not as
thorough as we could have obtained by paying for the assessment
ourselves, but still yielded what I already knew - a diagnosis of
ADHD. My son's district is quite liberal with 504 plans for any
students with ADHD or ADD, regardless of whether or not they are
''high functioning''. (If your daughter is failing a course and
spending hours in homework, then how could she be considered high
functioning?) The criteria for a 504 includes a disability that
substantially limits their abilities to learn, which sounds like it
is the case for your daughter.
(http://www.helpforadd.com/educational-rights/) My recommendation
would be for you to read through some of the information on these
links, talk to your pediatrician about getting an independent
diagnosis (with specific recommendations for accommodations), and
bring these documents to your district with a written request for a
504 plan. Whatever you do, please don't wait for ''executive
functioning'' to kick in, (the worst advice I've ever heard!)
In the meantime, there are steps you can take to help her right
away. If the coloring on homework is taking that much time - by
all means help her do it (or do it for her) and let her spend her
time and energy on the academic assignments. (I've seen both sides
of this issue, as a teacher and a parent. Some students spend much
more time on illustrations than is expected.) Also, it is reasonable
for you to request that the teacher(s) initial your daughter's
homework assignment list (that she writes down herself) each day, to
ensure that it is complete and accurate. If the teacher is unwilling
to do this, I would request a meeting with the teacher and
principal. Does her school have a Student Study Team? If so,
request your daughter be brought up for review. Finally, is there
another school in the district that would be a better fit in terms
of expectations and flexibility?
You didn't say if your daughter actually was found to have ADD. If
so, and despite being ''high-functioning'' is getting an F in one of
her classes, it sounds to me like you can make a case for
accommodations. I suggest contacting DREDF (its a disability rights
advocacy group with a branch that deals with rights in terms of
education) and explaining your situation to one of the people there
and see what they say. They can give you an outline of your rights
in this situation and of what you can ask of the school.
I would also investigate finding another school for her that is more
accepting of different learning styles and where the teachers are
more flexible about homework. This situation sounds miserable and
could really turn her off to school completely. You have my
glad to have middle school in my rearview
Hi - My son is in high school and he hasn't yet outgrown his
executive function issues. If your child is flunking classes
because of their ADD, then they should qualify for an IEP at your
school. Many schools inappropriately deny services to students with
ADD or AD/HD, because these kids can perform on standardized tests
in a controlled environment, but can not perform in the classroom or
complete required homework. You are entitled to an independent
educational evaluation from outside the district (at district
expense) if you disagree with the school's evaluation. I would
suggest requesting an independent eval from someone such as Dr.
Carolyn Johnson. Secondly, there are a lot of organizations that
might be able to give you legal advice, start with DREDF (disability
rights org) in Berkeley, or PACE for help with legal issues. You
really have to fight to get most school districts to do anything,
especially with budgets tight. The district is required to give you
a parents rights handout, read it and start contacting anyone you
think might be able to give you advice or help advocate for you kid.
State law specifically says that kids with ADD qualify for special
services if their disability is affecting their school performance.
Mom of ADD student
You have my sincere sympathy and support for this very complex and
difficult problem. I have a son who was diagnosed (independently)
with ADD by a highly reputable neuropsychologist, and our school
district also offered little help through their evaluation process.
Despite our independent evaluation, we were not able to obtain an
IEP, for the same reasons--that he had not failed long enough.
Despite progress made in many other states across the nation, many
school districts in California still abide by the ''wait to fail''
method of identifying students who have disabilities, including
those related to attention. Under this draconian system, students
must demonstrate failure from as early as 2nd grade and continue to
fail for for several years before they can be identified as
qualifying for special education services. Students with ADD are
typically not identified until later years when executive function
challenges become overtaxed due to increased cognitive demands in
middle and high school. The late appearance ADD symptoms gives
schools who rely on failure as the only criteria for identification
an easy out for denying services and accommodations to students who
should have the protections covered by both IDEA and Section 504
legislation. Because your school has denied your daughter both an
IEP and a 504, I would urge you to get an independent evaluation.
I'd try contacting the UC Berkeley School of Psychology and inquire
about a supervised evaluation by a graduate student which should
cost considerably less than a private evaluation. Then go back to
the school and demand a 504. Write up the accommodations you feel
she must have and advocate for their inclusion. You have a right to
be part of deciding what her accommodations should be. At the very
least she should have accommodations for reduced assignments and no
penalties for handing in late assignments. Also contact the
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) in Berkeley, a
special education advocacy organization for their advice. Also, I'd
recommend Nolo Press's excellent Complete IEP Guide. My heartfelt
If you can manage to afford it, you should get your daughter tested
privately. You and she need help advocating for her! I find your
teachers and administrators lack of help shocking. Is that what
publuc school is like? Have you considered finding some kind of
advocate? My daughter attends private middle, school and was
recently tested and needs some accommodations though her learning
issues are not severe and the school has been very accommodating.
Sorry you are dazed and confused
I read your post with empathy. We have one kid who was driven
absolutely crazy by the same kind of rote homework, and was similar
to yours -- too high-performing to qualify in his teachers' opinions
for a 504 or IEP, and yet struggling with executive function issues.
(We have another who actually likes her rote homework and seems to
get something out of it, but she must be the exception.)
For your kid who can't stand it, I'd recommend at least looking at
other schools, including Park Day. It's private, but they give
financial aid, it emphasizes content over busywork and is very
supportive. At least, that's what we did with our son, and it was
great for him -- maintained his confidence that he is a smart
student, and helped develop his intellectual and critical thinking
skills, which after all is what we want from school for our kids.
Last, this may or may not apply to you -- but I really wish we had
insisted and fought through getting our son formal accommodations.
Our experience was that while his so-called executive functions have
continued to develop, he's always struggled with subjects that
require high levels of rote homework (like math or foreign
language). As he's gone into high school, he's been somewhat
successful at talking with teachers about accommodations he needs
(such as being able to turn in late homework, sometimes with extra
work done for extra credit, including alternative assignments like
essays or projects instead of worksheets). But the formality of the
504/IEP requirement would have been helpful, and it would have been
helpful to start him early on that so he could perhaps get used to
accepting asking for accommodations, which can be challenging. If he
would have grown out of it, all the better.
Best of Luck
Our son, who is in 4th grade, is zoned to go to King middle school.
He's currently in a BUSD school that has made a big effort to lessen
the homework burden on families, which is great, but now he's pretty
used to a fairly laid back week, homework-wise. We're getting a
little worried that middle school will be a big nasty wake-up. So
what's the deal? King, specifically, please, but maybe also nearby
private schools. I'd like to have something to compare. What
classes do the kids take, and what's been your experience with the
workload? By the way, he's quick with the math homework, but is the
world's biggest procrastinator when it comes to the dreaded writing.
My son is in 8th grade at Willard, which is probably similar to
King. His homework load has been quite light all through middle
school. In 7th grade he had an English and history teacher who
hardly ever gave homework and instead said that the whole time the
students were in class they were writing or otherwise working hard.
I'm actually wondering whether Berkeley High is going to be a rude
awakening for my son. I would say he spends about 45 minutes a
night on average on homework now.
My 3 kids all went to King and found the homework load to be very
reasonable. All three played sports at King and also did
extra-curriculars outside of school, and never seemed panicky or
stressed about the amount of homework they had. The teachers make
sure that larger writing assignments and projects are well
scaffolded and broken down into ''chunks'' so kids can work on them
one step at a time. My kids are all fairly organized and that
probably helps, but the load did not seem unreasonable at all.
--Happy MLK family
My son is a 7th grader at King, attended a BUSD elementary school
prior to King. The amount of homework at King varies by teacher,
but in general, starting in seventh grade, the kids have different
teachers for different subjects, so the weekly homework workload is
not necessarily coordinated among teachers (my son might have a
history project and math test due the same day, for instance). In
general, teachers at King are very good about giving feedback in
terms of a student's work habits and progress in class.
Each student is given a wire-bound ''academic organizer'' from sixth
grade on, and I find that my son has to be very organized to stay on
top of his homework--and he's an organized, conscientious student as
it is. I have more concerns about how his more scattered, dreamy
younger brother, who may follow him to King in a few years, would
handle the workload there.
The students at King are certainly not coddled. If anything, if they
are able to keep up with the workload at King, they will be
well-prepared for the rigors of high school and college.
Yes, I did see ''Road to Nowhere,'' BTW.
I'm worried about my twelve-year-old son's workload. He is a
seventh grader at King, and gets pretty much all A's, but
not because he's ''academically gifted'', but because he
works really hard.
Anyway, I'm concerned because of the extremely great
amount of work these kids are given. His English teacher
told him that in seventh grade, these CHILDREN are supposed
to have THREE HOURS of homework each night! He told me this,
and I couldn't believe it. When I heard that, I started
adding up all of the ''requirements'' for a child his age,
and realized that if he met all of them, he would have about
fifteen minutes of free time each (week)day. He is ''young''
for his age, and still loves playing with his models and
toys and his brothers; he still needs time to play.
He does not do quite three hours of homework (I would
be shocked if that really happened every night), but it's
usually 1.5-2+ hours a day, and the stress of it is really
seeming to get to him. I know that middle school is a rough
transition, but he started middle school last year with very
Is anyone else experiancing this? Is this normal? It
seems to be taking a toll on him; he comes right home from
six hours of school, sit down, does a few hours of homework,
and it's almost time for dinner, so he's really tense. If
anyone tries to talk to him when he does his homework, he
snaps at them, or even yells, only to feel remorseful later.
I suggested taking a break before homework, but he
insists--and he's probably right--that if he does, he won't
be able to finish it. He does get some energy out--after
dinner, he and his brothers go and play in our backyard for
an hour, but he still seems more aggresive and tense than
he's ever been. Is there anything I can do? I don't want to
lose the sweet, loving son I know to middle school. Please
give me some advice; my wife and I are at a tal loss.
Middle school homework can be way out of proportion to the
developmental needs of our children. Some kids seem to ride
the pressure more easily than others. I have had two kids
go through middle school. The first one did well with a lot
of parent involvement and teacher conferences to keep up
with assignments. The second one has much less interest in
pleasing teachers and is satisfied with Cs. As parents, we
take the attitude that top grades are not that important in
middle school.Enjoying the process of learning and having
time for play and social life are equally important at this
stage. The kids are learning how to juggle teacher
expectations more independently and to talk to their
teachers when they have a problem. In our family,we expect
our middle school kid to do his best and we get involved to
help him out and keep in touch with his teachers by email
and phone if he falls behind. Most teachers are very
responsive to parental concerns Re: kid stress and will
modify due dates if they see the kid is really trying. Our
kids do sports after school and are often exhausted by 9:00
pm without having finished homework. They do it the next
day early in the morning or turn it in late. A good night's
sleep and family time are much more important at age 12-14
than an A on HW assignments. Talk to your son's teachers
and explain the situation. You can work something out
together to make your kid's school experience more
balanced. Our job as parents is to advocate for the health
and wellbeing of our children in and out of school. Put the
homework concern out on a school etree, on the PTA agenda
and hash it over with the other parents and teachers of 7th
graders. 1 and 1/2 hours is plenty for 7th grade, maybe 2
on occasion, but not on a regular basis. Good luck,
I definitely share your concern about middle schoolers
feeling too much homework pressure. I was shocked when my
11 year old entered 6th grade at Lincoln Middle School (in
Alameda) and had several hours of homework nightly. Her
core teacher says that homework should average 20 minutes
per class per day, so that comes to about 2 hours. I
think that's too much homework for a child that age, a
child who wants and deserves lots of time to hang out in
her tree house, do crafts projects, play with her pets,
and generally be a kid. My repeated and clear message to
my daughter is that the most important thing for her is to
give attention to not just homework/grades, but also other
important areas of life such as music, sports, church, and
last but certainly not least family and friends time.
When she recently brought home all As I told her that was
great but it did make me wonder if she had ''enough
balance'' in her life. She knew I was partly kidding about
giving her a hard time about making As, but she needs to
hear someone articulate a different message from what I
believe is overemphasis on homework and preparing for the
standardized tests on which teachers and principals are
increasingly pressured to have their students score well.
a pro-childhood mom
I read your post about your son's HW and have some ideas. First, I teach
middle school, not at King, but 6th grade at a charter school. At the
beginning of the year, I had complaints from some parents that I gave too
much HW. I have struggled with this and believe I have reached a
compromise. The first thing you should do if you haven't already is speak w/
your child's teacher. Ask her/him how much time she/he thinks the HW
should take and tell him/her how much time your child spends on HW. Ask
whether that is a reasonable amount of time or is your child spending too
much time on HW. Also, your child might have some anxiety about how he's
doing. Sounds like he's a really conscientious student. Setting up boundaries
at home might help; like have a snack and 15 min. of loafing time when he
first gets home before starting his HW. Also, check what the assignments are
and when they're due. Is your son freaked out about getting stuff done that
he has a week or so to complete. How about setting up a schedule so if he's
working on a big project, set aside 15-20 daily to work on that. I definitely
don't think he should spend 3 hrs per night on HW but 1-1/2 is not
unreasonable. His anxiety might be about other issues. Please start by
speaking w/ the teacher. Best of luck to you. It sounds like your son is really
thoughtful and probably a student any teacher would be lucky to have.
I also have a 7th grader at King and have not experienced
anything like what was described (3 hours of
homework/night). I urge concerned parents to raise such
issues with the principal or VP. The VP names
and email addresses can be found on the King PTA website,
http://king.berkeleypta.org/admin.html. Also, try posting to
the un-moderated King Discussion group. Check it out and
subscribe at King_Discussion-subscribe[at]yahoogroups.com.
I agree that our children don't need to be in school all
day and then work on homework most of their evenings.
Beacon School (a private school from pre-school through
Middle School in Oakland) has a very positive approach
towards homework. The founder, Thelma Farley, believes
that in the early grades all work should be done in school.
She encourages families to spend time together and not be
driven by busy work. In Middle School the homework is
reasonable. It often focuses on projects. My son is
graduating from there this year and has had an incredibly
positive school experience.
this page was last updated: Apr 1, 2011
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