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Bill Richards

EDL 647--Diversity Issues and School Administration


Disenfranchised Group Assignment
May 2, 2017

Institutional Failure in Math:


Assessing How Mainstream Students Slipped into Being At Risk

Introduction
Over the past six years, the school district where I work has experienced an increasing

rate of student attrition. Most recently, the class of 2016 at the high school graduated 45

students, though 72 students were members of this class at the beginning of 8th grade. A lot of

the loss of students has occurred during or soon after the sophomore year.

Our high school site has identified that the current sophomore class is at risk for

following this pattern of leaving the high school for other schools or simply disappearing, and a

large percentage of this class has failed math during the first semester and looks like they are at

risk to fail it for the second semester as well. The students as a group have begun to identify

with a culture of failure in math, and it is clear that our school must respond to this situation

immediately if we are to serve these students and prevent the perpetuation of the academic

failure and subsequent loss of our students. The students had become disaffected in math, and

these negative feelings were affecting their work in other classes, their behavior, and other parts

of their lives.

Procedure
I met with the target student group twice in circles so they could share their feelings and

thoughts, and I interviewed many of the students individually. I was also able to meet

individually with the teacher whose courses the students are failing, and I had numerous
conversations with the head of the math department. In addition, I was able to help the principal

set up a working group consisting of the schools three math teachers, the assistant principal, the

school counselor, and myself. This group was able to obtain and review current and historical

grade data for the target group of students. Clearly, bringing this disenfranchised group back

into the fold would require academic, personal, and group interventions.

Findings
Despite the groups academic struggles, very few of them appeared to be individuals who

wanted to be less connected to school, but on the contrary, many of them seemed to desire have

more positive relationships at school that could help them through the difficulties they were

facing in their academic and personal lives. Clearly, the school needed to help them find ways to

keep connecting with other individuals--both students and adults--and groups at school.

In reviewing their grades, we found that the data indicated that over a third of the

students had failed the first semester of math, and more than half of the students had either Ds or

Fs. These low grades put these students at risk to perform poorly in the second semester as well

as they would not have learned the necessary prereequisite skills. Indeed, a review of these

students math grades during their freshman year revealed that many of them had received Ds,

while a few of their classmates had received failing grades and had subsequently been reenrolled

in the previous years course. Looking back further, a large percentage of these students had also

received Ds or Fs in their 8th grade math classes, but all of them had been promoted and enrolled

in the Integrated I math course their freshman year. It is important to note that another group of

students at the same grade level had been selected by test scores and teacher recommendations to

take Algebra during their 8th grade year, and these students had by and large been successful and
had been enrolled in Integrated II to begin their freshman year. Conversations with the principal

of our largest feeder school revealed that this same cohort of students had been at her school in

7th grade during her first year at the school, and she indicated that math instruction that year had

been interrupted by staff changes during the school year and the students had received

substandard instruction.

We should also note that the school suffered from a number of personnel issues that came

to bear upon the experiences of this particular group of students. Between these students 7th

and 9th grade years, the site administration went through three changes, administrative

understaffing issues, and had a principal leave in midyear. In addition, the students had six

different math teachers in three years, and a staff of three math teachers saw five math teachers

leave in four years, including one who left on the first day of school.

In addition to the students academic failures as sophomores, the group was increasingly

engaging in behaviors that were putting them at odds with the school discipline system. They

were increasingly tardy to class, were cutting classes to go to a local coffee shop or were asking

to miss classes so that they could hang out in safe classrooms like the music room, or they

were hanging out in the school office with other students who were office assistants or asking to

see the counselor. In sum, they engaged in a number of avoidance behaviors in order to find

small amounts of time that were less stressful to them than being in class. Some of this time was

unsupervised, and the students behaviors during this time were unknown.

My interviews with students along with circle conversations revealed a concensus about

some of the factors underlaying their failed grades in math while also revealing some differing

attitudes about the students own individual and shared responsibility for these grades. From the
student perspective, they acknowledged that many of them did not work very hard or pay much

attention during the 8th grade, though they acknowledged that their teacher tried to teach them,

but hadnt gained much cooperation from them. In regard to their freshman year, the students

universally said that their freshman math teacher was a fairly nice person but was not competent

to teach them math. They said that their teacher didnt seem to understand the math and was not

able to give them clear instruction about how to do it. They generally said that they learned

nothing in the class, but passed the course anyway. This teacher is no longer at our school. In

contrast to 8th grade, the students generally communicated that had they cooperated more with

their freshman math teacher, they still would not have learned anything anyway.

In addition, students indicated that the textbook they were using for math were confusing

and did not explain how to do the problems. Frequently, their parents complained of the same

things.

Recommendations
In regard to the students failures in math, our math working group discussed and

researched a number of options. It was clear that this group of kids needed to gain the skills

taught in their current math class both so that they could pass the class and be ready for the next

years course. As our school only has one math pathway to graduation, these students would

need to take math up through Integrated 3 in order to meet our district graduation requirements.

Options for addressing these problems included hiring a tutor, providing additional after-school

tutoring, pursuing an after-school credit remediation program that would also provide them with

necessary skills, pursuing partnerships with College of the Redwoods to provide the students

with either after-school or summer school classes on our high school site through the adult ed
program, making changes to the math program including changing curricula, offering alternative

math courses in future years to provide different pathways to graduation, offering a math support

course to be taken concurrently with their Integrated courses, and establishing benchmark tests

and multi-method placement criteria for putting kids in the proper math classes.

Ultimately, while many changes are still being discussed, a different curriculum has been

agreed upon and is currently on its way to the school board for approval. A number of options

either became unavailable or were determined to cause other problems to school functioning

overall. A group is forming to look at reasons for student failure or leaving our school, and this

group is starting to consider other pathways to student learning and graduation including

potential CTE and agriculture pathways to meet district math requirements. In addition, we have

flagged for discussion potential ways to change our current unit remediation system--our

districts continuation high school--so that it can offer a more meaningful alternative to the main

high school. Our district serves an area with few educational options for high school students

other than independent study, and yet a number of students who live within our district

boundaries are not traditional comprehensive high school students.

In regard to supporting these students to come back into the fold, we are talking with our

team of teachers, administrators, and the school counselor to find acceptable ways to keep these

kids functioning and in school. For those who are athletes, we are working to get them to keep

up with progress reports and they are being called in to meet with the counselor more often as

she checks on their progress on-line and with their teachers; getting these student-athletes to fail

only one class rather than two will prevent them from having to use academic waivers to

maintain athletic eligibility, and will keep them connected to the school through participation in
team sports. For the students who are musicians, we have created a list of students who need to

be offered class schedules that include music, and the schools master schedule is being created

with this need in mind for next year. Finally, the students are being offered some time during

some classes to have some rest time as long as they are completing their classwork and are under

the supervision of a certificated teacher or the counselor.

Conclusion
One of the strengths of South Fork High School has long been its personal nature, and the

ability of each student and adult to know pretty much everyone else by name. Students are

aware that they have adults they can go to who care about them as individuals. But school and

student data is showing signs that additional factors and pressures are existing within the

community that will require the school and district to review its mission and its programs in

order to better meet the learning needs of its students. While the school has made some moves in

regard to adding some CTE courses and special ed and resource support, it needs to gather

together stakeholders to discuss some larger institutional changes in regard to pathways for

students to meet district graduation requirements. Some issues can be addressed with some

small changes, but others may need to be larger, and the school needs to begin process of

designing change for the future if it is to prevent an increasing number of students from

becoming disenfranchised.