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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

CSI, Seventh-Grade Style

CSI is my favorite TV show, so it's probably inevitable that I would dedicate an entire blog to it sometime. However, this blog is actually about my kid's 7th grade extra credit science project. The blog on the show itself will have to wait (but it is coming).

My daughter's science teacher requires kids to do TWO extra credit assignments each quarter if they want a chance at getting an A or a B. He is a one-man crusade against middle school grade inflation, and I respect him for it. (Surprisingly, he's still popular with the students.)

Despite that, so far, she has 100% in all assignments, that only gets her a C without the two extra assignments. So...among the options for earning A/B credit was to attend a four-hour seminar, hosted by the local PD, on crime prevention, one part of which was on forensic science.

Now, when I heard of this, *I* wanted to go. She did not. "You just want me to do this because you like that show," she told me. Well, yeah.

Since she wasn't interested, I basically forgot all about it until, in true 12-year-old form, she informed me the morning of (yesterday) that "of course" she was going. By then, I'd committed myself to taking our youngest to a gymnastics birthday party and meeting up with another mother, so my chance to hear a talk on forensics was out. So, while I watched four-year-olds bounce off walls and fly through the air on trapezes (literally), my husband had the joy of taking our oldest kid to the mini-CSI session. He signed her up, told her where to go, and took himself to a talk on burglary prevention.

She, however, ended up in the wrong class and was too shy to tell the police officer that she needed to leave and find the CSI class. So, she sat through a lecture on internet safety -- a topic that has been covered ad nauseum in school, so she learned very little. Not to mention, it also has zilch to do with science.

The deadline for handing in A/B assignments is tomorrow, so she started filling in the form her teacher had provided for her, without (of course) having heard the talk. Oooo...NO. "What kind of education would a person need to be a CSI?" Her answer: "At least a high school degree."

A bit of understatement, I'd say.

Can't wait to read the final report. :)


  1. As a middle school teacher, I'm quite familiar with the notion of grade inflation. I'm confused however by your daughter's science teacher's extra credit requirement. Why two extra credit assignments? Why not one, or five? Shouldn't the class itself be rigorous enough to differentiate the low achieving from average achieving form the high achieving students?

    What concerns me most is the fact that these assignments must take place outside of the school environment. As a teacher at a Title One school, (every child receives a free or reduced lunch because 1) the parents don't earn enough money to provide food for their children, or 2) parents falsify the household income documents) I simply can't think of a better system for failure than requiring an assignment that students could not compete because 1) their parents do not have the means, time, know-how, and/or inclination to assist them or 2) students did not manage their time wisely, as is your child's case. Not to say that student independent projects are not important, in fact, they are necessary: how can one become independent if not provided the arena in which to practice independence? Yet, such this particular extra credit requirement seems to have a particularly high cost.

    If your child is successful in her subterfuge, writing a report about a program she did not view and subsequently earns the extra credit she needs to be academically successful, how meaningful is her academic achievement? What has she really learned about putting forth extra effort? Will she learn that the appearance of doing more is just as valuable as actually performing above and beyond expectation, or will she learn that bullshit works? How old will she be when she is faced with a situation where getting by is not good enough and what will be the price she pays for learning this?

    If the information she is asked to master is important enough to change her grade so dramatically, I cannot understand why your child's teacher has not organized a series of guest lectures on campus or field trips to from which to write these extra credit reports? Perhaps if the knowledge students are to gain from these extra credit assignments were part of normal rigorous instruction instead of beyond the norm, students would understand that mastery learning in school requires dedication beyond what is easy.

    Maybe the best way to stop inflating grades is to 1) stop rounding, 90% - 100% = A not 89.5% - 100%, 2) require student projects that are cognitively challenging, for example, the difference between knowing that there are four states of matter, solid, liquid, gas, and plasma, and knowing why matter changes form – think pressure and volume. No matter what the criticisms of the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004 (IDEA) may be, the notion every classroom in America should be a place where students face rigor that is “commensurate with their needs and abilities” should not be the preview to students with disabilities alone.

    The price you child needs to pay for excellence seems a bit too high and relies too much on her ability to organize herself or your ability to organize things for her. Providing the structure for a strong education is part of the teacher’s role.

    Lastly, the notion that field trips cost too much is bullshit! If something is important enough to do, it is important enough to pay for. My students and I take field trips often; every time we do so we pay the extra money required, because the trips we take can’t happen on campus, and the learning required is essential for their education.

  2. DP -- I hear you! I think that what matters is whether she learns SOMETHING about forensic science, regardless of how she learns it. (I of course will insist she be upfront about what happened and where she got her info.)

    The system bugs me too, but since we ARE able to let her do these things without too much trouble on our part, I encourage her to do them. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that, even without these extra assignments, there is a pretty clear curve in the class, separating the lower-achieving students from the higher-achieving ones. I doubt every one has 100% in the class, as she currently does.

    Thanks for your comment.


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