Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

Zevi goes to a great school; everyone talks about the great education there. The teachers, curriculum, and facilities are stellar. Most of Zevi’s classmates are zipping through, moving from Mishnah to Gemara, decimals to fractions, and picture books to chapter books with ease. But, Zevi just squeaks by. And, every year, he worries that he will be left back. What’s going on? Is it Zevi? Is it the school? Why do some children fail in good schools?

Suzy Pepper Rollins, a veteran educational consultant, identifies five reasons in her book Learning in the Fast Lane.



Homework Challenges

First, let’s start with why homework is important. Several studies have shown that students retain significantly more information when they work with it at home, rather than simply in school. One study, conducted in 1989, indicates that students remember up to 69% more content if they complete relevant homework.

That said, sometimes homework can be the problem. Students who have not mastered the activity in school will not be able to complete it at home without assistance. If parents are available, they can help. However, sometimes they are not available or do not understand the assignments. Additionally, children might have responsibilities at home they need to attend to, or there might not be a quiet space to work in.

All of these factors can play a role in hindering children from completing their homework. Then, when the students get to school the next day, their teachers might penalize them for incomplete or incorrect work. This can create a vicious cycle of disappointment and failure.


Zeros Or Low Grades For Missing Work

Teachers often give zeros for missing work. While this is theoretically a logical plan, it ultimately punishes the students without helping them learn. Instead of giving zeros, insist they complete the assignment. Educational research shows that student work improves more with feedback than with grades. In addition, if worksheets that are similar to the homework are not graded in class, why should those same worksheets be graded simply because they were completed at home?

Teachers should see homework as an extension of the student work period and respond to it accordingly. If a student misses a homework assignment, the student needs to make it up. If he cannot do it at home because he lacks the tools or skills, then he should have to make it up in the classroom with teacher guidance. This way, the student will actually learn the material.


Lack Of Targeted, Ongoing Assessments And Intervention

Generally, at the end of the year, students approach the teacher about doing extra credit to bring their grade up or retaking a test on which they did poorly. Teachers get parents calling up in May and June saying, “I’m worried that my child is going to be left back. What can I do?” These are legitimate concerns. However, for both parents and teachers, there needs to be continuous ongoing assessments (evaluations of how the student is faring in the class) and if need be, interventions (acceleration and after-school help).

Rollins seriously says, “When any student in the building is in danger of failing, the equivalent of tornado warning sirens should wail around the school. This is an emergency in this student’s life, and the sirens should not cease until action has been taken to remedy the failure.” These sirens should go off in November, January, and March, if the student is in danger of failing. Waiting until the end of the year to deal with failing students means that there were months of wasted time. Instead of waiting until the end of the year, teachers, parents and students are losing out on precious time to help them succeed.


Low Student Motivation

Sometimes students don’t do well because they say that they are not interested in doing well. There can be a few reasons behind this apathy:

The material is too easy. This can cause them to tune out because they are bored. This means that even when the material is new, they won’t be paying attention and will therefore miss out on key concepts.

The material is too hard. This can make a student feel defeated and he or she won’t try for fear of repeated failure.

The student is not connected to the class or teacher. If a student feels separate from the class and teacher, he or she will be unmotivated to participate and excel.

Surprisingly, these three problems can be remedied by creating ongoing assessments, both written and verbal and asking students to evaluate the difficulty and relevance of the class content. These assessments not only allow teachers to understand who is falling behind or needs enrichment, they also create connections between the students and teacher.


Weak Skills Or Knowledge Gaps

If students continue to work hard, but are not seeing results, this could be because of something larger going on. Research shows that reading difficulties are the most common form of disability that stymies children in school. Identifying this reading disability and then modifying the study methods and coursework can greatly help struggling students.

So, why are students failing in good schools? There are multiple reasons students might be failing, but none of them are set in stone. Instead, you can identify the issue and remedy it. Students like Zevi shouldn’t be stuck worrying about passing to the next grade. Instead, parents and teachers can work together to get him on track!

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at [email protected].