Saturday, January 29, 2011


Here's something I just dug up: a FAQ I put together for parent-teacher conferences. I wrote this to serve two purposes: (1), obviously, to avoid having to give the same explanation over and over to parents who typically asked the same basic questions, and (2) to give parents waiting to see me something to do in the meantime. A lot of my colleagues seemed to like it.

1. Why did my child fail?

If your child failed, it is because either (a.) he did not do his work, or (b.) his work did not meet the minimum requirement or the minimum grade-level performance standard. Put simply, he did not earn enough points to pass.

Every student’s average is based on the grades received on assigned work. If the assigned work does not meet the minimum requirement, or the minimum standard for his grade level, it receives a failing grade (an F = 18 points out of 40). If the work is not done at all, it receives a zero (no credit). This includes a notebook being missing from the classroom when it is scheduled to be checked, and the student being absent on the day a final essay exam is written in class.

2. How exactly did you figure out my child’s grade?

The notebooks, in which we write in class every day, are collectively worth 40% of the grade average. Notebook grades are based on volume of work, comprehension of the assigned material, and response to the assigned readings and daily quotes. We have had two (2) notebook checks so far, and we also had a take-home quiz at the start of the term which counts as a notebook. Also, homework assignments (up to 4 points each) are added together, with the total score counting as one notebook. These four scores are averaged together (A+B+C+D / 4).

Formal writing projects, such as ELA Regents essays, are also worth 40% of the grade. Only one essay was written and graded in the first marking period; therefore, the score your child received on that essay was worth the full 40%. Essay grades are based on what the student’s score would be for the same essay on the actual ELA Regents Exam.

20% of the grade is for participation, conduct, attendance, behavior, attitude, and other observable indicators of day-to-day classroom performance. This is an holistic score which I determine based on my records and my overall impression of your child’s behavior, partici-pation, conduct and general approach to learning throughout the semester. Generally, 20 is for excellent conduct and participation; 15 is for good conduct but limited participation; 10 is for occasional misconduct or attendance problems; 5 is for frequent misconduct; zero (0) is for persistent misconduct indicating a complete lack of interest in this aspect of the grade.

3. Why is my child’s grade in your class lower than his other classes?

I don’t know. A grade in one subject area does not necessitate the same level of proficiency, or actual performance, in another. I can tell you that English is fundamentally different from other high school subjects, in that it is entirely performance-based. There is also a significant difference between competence and excellence, between adequate and exceptional performance, when it comes to literacy.

4. Can my child make up the work he did not do?

No. The work assigned must be done as assigned, when assigned. I do not believe in “make-ups” or “extra credit,” as I insist that ill-considered or careless decision-making be held to account. The only way to make up for missing work is to do all of the assigned work from now on; the more work we do, the less the zero will impact the average, but it will take time.

It is the student’s responsibility to know what the requirements, standards, assignments, due dates, etc. are, and to act accordingly. I provide students with all the information they need; they have plentiful resources, including myself, my website, and their classmates, to find it.

5. What if my child was absent on the day of the final essay?

She should have done two things: (1) write the essay on her own, and (2) demonstrate to my satisfaction that her absence was necessary and unavoidable, not the result of conscious choice or her own negligence. I will not accept it otherwise. It is her responsibility to produce the essay and make sure I receive it immediately, not wait for me to tell her what to do. It is also her responsibility to explain her absence and provide adequate proof of that explanation.

6. What if my child took the notebook home

(a.)   because he did not know it was supposed to be left in the class-room?

Students were told early on that notebooks are supposed to be left in the classroom, under their desks. This is also clearly stated in the English Handbook. All work in the notebook is written in class. There is no reason for him not to know the policy, and no reason to take the notebook home.

(b.)   because she was concerned that it might be stolen?

The risk that a notebook left in the classroom will be stolen is extremely low; it has probably never happened in the six-plus years I have had this policy in place. The risk that a notebook taken out of the classroom will be lost, stolen, misplaced, left at home, etc. is substantially greater. If she takes the notebook home, she does so at her own risk. In any event, she is responsible for making sure I receive it on the day it is scheduled to be checked, which is written on the whiteboard in the classroom.

(c.)   by mistake?

Mistakes or negligence cannot be corrected or avoided in the future if they are absolved and un-done in the present. Your child must learn to be more careful, and that he cannot afford to be careless. The notebook may receive partial credit the next time it is checked, but I will not undo his mistake.

7. How can my child raise his grade average?

The only way to improve one’s grade average is to do all of the assigned work, as assigned, when assigned, and to improve one’s performance.  Better work means better grades.  As the quality of his work improves, his grade average should improve as well. Improved conduct and meaningful class participation can also add points to the grade average.

8. What can I do to help my child improve her grades?

I always recommend that students read more in order to improve their fluency and literacy. Regularly reading such things as newspapers, current-affairs periodicals, fiction and non-fiction books, and other texts of appropriate sophistication and subject matter will go a long way toward improving both reading and writing skills. In addition, although I do not send assigned readings home with students, discussing the readings we do in class with your child would also be helpful, as would obtaining her own copy of the text to read on her own.

Students need to understand, above all else, that the English Regents is no easy mark; the performance standards are very high, and there is no body of information one can memorize to ensure a high score. Merely being a competent reader and writer, while it may be enough to pass, is not enough to excel. It is important that your child recognize the need for improvement, and take that need very seriously. In high school, the standards are higher than they are in middle school, and they are particularly high on the English Regents.

9. Will you call me any time my child has difficulty, misbehaves, or receives a failing grade in your class?

I will continue to send letters home to notify you of missing or failing work, or of persistent behavior problems. This is the most efficient way to provide such information. I can be reached via e-mail at if you would like to request a personal, individual update on your child’s performance.

10. What are the students learning in class now?

We just finished reading The Catcher in the Rye. Presently, we will begin our second writing project which is taken from Session Two, Part A of a previous ELA Regents exam. The syllabus for the entire semester is available on my website at