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Homework in Middle School

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Middle School Homework Ruining Our Life

March 2011

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. m.
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 about this?

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 next steps.
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. anon
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 assigns ''busywork''.

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 *time*.

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. Lynne


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. d.
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 school tests. anon


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. another mom


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 private practioner. Anon


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? Sympathetic Parent


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 sympathy. 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
Dear Dazed, 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 support. Still Fighting
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


Worried about homework in Berkeley middle schools

March 2011

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. Thanks.


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. -Mary
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. King parent


Too Much Homework in Middle School

Feb 2006

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 few problems.

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.
William


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,
Marilyn
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
Hi William,
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. Susan S
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.
Rebecca
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. Sara
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