daughter's poor school performance

cornflakegirlDecember 10, 2009


My daughter is a junior this year. She has never been a stellar student although she is bright. She did make straight A's one semester but she is currently failing Chemistry and Algebra2.

She was supposed to go on a school trip that I pre-paid over a thousand dollars for and now it looks as though she will not be going as there is really no way for her to pull up her grades in time. I don't think that reality has really set in for her yet and she is making what she believes to be a good attempt but I know that she could do a lot better.

The main problem for me right now is not the money wasted but looking to the future, I really don't know what to do to help her. The other day she was in tears talking about how she has ruined her chances of getting into a good college. I told her that she just has to start trying. She does not study. She does not turn in her homework. I told her that I would gladly hire her a tutor but she is adamant that this would not help her.

I really am racking my brain trying to come up with a solution but she says all my advice is no good. For example, and please tell me if I'm wrong here, but if she were to take Chemistry and or Algebra over in the summer and do really well, would that not drastically improve her report card and GPA or does it not work that way? Any teachers out there?

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I'm no pro at this, but....

Can you put your finger on something that has happened that represents a departure-point? Can we rule out drugs, etc.?

Keying on your comment: "She does not study. She does not turn in her homework." I'm thinking this isn't an intelligence thing. This is some kind of behavioral thing -- and she, herself, knows it. Is this some kind of attention-grab?

She's blocking you out. Is there somebody else she could talk with? I'm suggesting some kind of intervention. Stupid kids don't make straight A's any semester. She's got it. She's wrestling with something. If you can't get inside there, find somebody who can. Push it. Force it. She's got what it takes but something is in the way. You must find it.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 6:59PM
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Thanks for the positive response asolo. I know for a fact that she does not have a drug problem. An attention grab? Could be but I don't think so. She seems to be annoyed whenever I pay attention to her. I'm pretty sure that all my nagging this past week was the last thing she wanted.

I think that a big part of the problem this year is that the two teachers for the subjects are not good. I think in the past she has done ok without turning in her homework and studying because she could always rely on the teachers teaching their subject well and so she would learn what she needed to from class lectures and get good test scores. There are other things as well that could be part of the problem but they are not new developments.

Your assessment that this is not an intelligence thing is correct. She has an amazing memory but this does not help her when she doesn't know or understand the subject.

A couple of positive things today: she finally decided to talk to both teachers. I've been asking her to do this for days and she finally relented and went to school this morning with a list of questions prepared. She managed to pull one of her grades up from 35 to 60 by turning in old homework assignments that she did last night.

I also called a tutoring service to see if we can get some help in these two subjects. She is not happy about this but I think she will go along with it.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 9:02PM
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Perhaps she has been distracted...my son's school work really dropped off when he was interested in a girl.

School work gets more difficult as the years progress and I think it is tricky for some children to adapt to the extra pressures put on them. Organising their time is such a crucial thing to getting all the work done and this takes practice.

Try to keep track of what she is doing in the subjects, when assignments have to be in and what is expected.

It is good she has talked to her teachers, you will probably find that she will improve...it does take time for maturity to kick in, she is still young.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 11:57PM
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I would think whether or not summer school grades would completely replace Fs in those courses would be a school district policy issue. So you may want to call her high school counselor or your local school district office to find out about whether or not they do grade replacement. Won't she need to take those courses anyway, to get the credits she wants to graduate on time?

Regardless of whether or not they replace the grade, if this was my daughter I'd want her to understand her math (chemistry too, but very much the math). If the teacher is ineffective, then a tutor might help your daughter understand the math, even if the tutoring doesn't help her raise her grade. I'd also strongly advise my daughter to see her teacher before or after school for help, even if the teacher doesn't teach effectively. For one thing only her teacher knows what will be on the upcoming tests and how things will be weighted. Also, if the teacher sees her trying hard and coming for help, the teacher might cut her some slack when grading the test, or help her focus her studying efforts more effectively (i.e., don't spend too much time Susie getting ready for chapter 15, focus on chapter 16 instead).

I have a junior in high school and a junior in college, and I've seen quite a few teens get more serious about grades their junior year, when the reality of college applications hits them. Many students think they have their entire senior year to bring their grades up, but they don't realize that they may be applying fall of their senior year. So they may have only their junior year to get those GPAs up.

If your daughter's GPA is weak, then she may want to start early preparing for her SAT. They have online prep courses, and you may want to sign her up for an SAT prep course in the Spring. Some kids don't need any SAT prep, but if my daughter had a weak GPA then I'd be encouraging her to take no chances with her SAT prep.

Your daughter may have blown her chances at getting into the colleges of her choice. But if she gets into a lower tier college, she can make stellar grades there and transfer to a "better" college. So I hope she won't give up hope.

Also, I don't know anything about your daughter's background or issues. But I've seen plenty of very smart kids who didn't do their homework. In my (limited) experience, it seems to have been a particular problem for smart kids - because they can still make decent grades without doing any work. Sometimes it's not drugs or alcohol or a bad home life, it's just that they don't do their homework because they don't have to. I know a brilliant young man who used to fail classes on purpose. In his (gifted) chemistry class he bet his friends he would make a zero on the very difficult true/false chemistry exam. He made a zero and won the bet - because he knew all the answers. He did torch his opportunity to get into the university of his choice as a freshman, but he made a 4.0 at the lower tier university he attended and transferred into the university of his choice later. He's doing very well in college.

I hope your daughter turns things around. Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2009 at 11:34PM
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Hi popi,

Now that you mention it, I do think that she has been very distracted recently by her new habit of long phone conversations with her best friend.

I think you are right about the difficulty aspect. What she could get away with in earlier years she can no longer get away with. I found out the same thing myself when I went to college.

I honestly don't know if by encouraging my daughter to organize her time and do her assignments and study, she will ever develop good study habits. Is it truly possible to achieve this through practice because I've come to the conclusion that it might be genetic or something. I was a poor student and her father, while very smart was even worse than me. In my own family growing up, two of my siblings were like me, not good students. One of my brothers however had very good grades, got into a great college and earned two degrees in Engineering. I did not earn a degree and neither did my other brother even though we both had the opportunity. My "smart" brother's room was always neat and he was just such a hard worker. Yet we all were raised the same way by the same parents. He did not get any special attention. I've always wondered what made the difference for him. If it is that good habits are something we learn from our parents, would not I and my other brother and sister also have had those same good habits?

I will continue to wonder and maybe I will discover the secret to doing well so that I can pass it on to my daughter. It is not enough to simply say "you just have to try" even though I keep saying that to her which really annoys her. I think all this probably sounds pretty horrible and I'm not saying that I'm going to throw my hands up and give up. I will keep better track of her school work and her grades and I will get her a tutor because I know that she needs that for the rest of the year. She told me that I better not talk to her teachers so I'll leave that alone for now.

Thanks for the reply!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2009 at 3:39PM
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Hi daisyinga,

It never occurred to me that they might replace a bad grade. That would sure be nice. Even though all my past experiences with school counselors have not been good, I think I will have to go ahead and talk to her counselor and see what the options are. The problem here is that my daughter is always very opposed to me talking to anybody on her behalf, and I don't want to do anything on the sly.

About the SAT prep- I wasn't even thinking about that and that would definitely make a difference.

Thanks for telling me about the young man who turned things around for himself. It really does help to hear stuff like that. Reality hit my daughter hard yesterday when she finally realized that she would not be going on the trip. She cried for over an hour and said a lot of really angry things, which I knew would happen. But then she calmed down and said she was sorry. I honestly don't know if she meant it when she said she wasn't going to try anymore since the trip is lost. I'm hoping to come back here in a few months and pull this thread up from the depths and post about what a huge success the rest of the year was and what wonderful grades my daughter earned for herself. That would be the best thing in the world!

I really do appreciate all the replies.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2009 at 4:30PM
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Can she take summer school to replace the grades--ask her guidance counselor. My daughter got a D in a math class as a sophomore and as her school didn't give credit for Ds, she took the class in summer school, which was much harder and she figured out that she didn't want to spend her summers in a classroom.

Your daughter might end up doing a year at a community college if her study skills aren't good enough for college. I don't think that time management skills are genetic, but if she's wasting time on the phone, yank the phone.

Has she ever been tested for ADD?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2009 at 6:08PM
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They might replace the grade, or they might average the two grades together, or some other option. The school counselor should be able to tell you how they determine the final grade for the course.

The parents who visit this forum are all dealing with different personalities of kids, different school systems, etc. All we can do is draw on our own experience, and if my kids didn't want me talking to their teachers that would be a great big huge red flag to me. Occasionally my kids have had teachers were impossible to deal with reasonably (one of my son's teachers had a complete breakdown one year and was committed to an institution). But for the most part my kids' teachers have been some of my biggest allies and advisers. You might ask your daughter why she doesn't want you to talk to her teachers. Are the teachers going to tell you something your daughter doesn't want you to know (like she's flirting with her boyfriend in class), or is she afraid you'll say something to anger the teachers and they'll take it out on her? Teachers are a parent's best resource, and parents should be the teachers' best resource. I'd be very, very suspicious if my daughter never wanted me to talk to *anyone* about her schoolwork.

As far as the post above about good study habits being genetic and not learned, some kids are just naturally organized and good students, that's true. But most kids who aren't naturally organized can learn those skills. I know that from experience. I completely agree that it's not enough to say "you just have to try". Many, many kids don't know exactly what to do to try, and many of the ones who know what to do don't have the discipline to follow through.

Instead of saying to her "you just have to try", you might want to try identifying exactly what it is you want her to do, monitoring her progress in that area and setting up consequences if she doesn't follow through. What is it exactly that you want her to do - do her homework, go in for help every day with her chemistry teacher, memorize her equations? There are a world of things she can do. We've had math and chemistry formulas taped to the bathroom mirror, the dash of the car, the inside of the front door. We've fit our equations into popular songs and danced around the room singing equations. We've set aside homework hours - only homework can be done during that time. Kids sometimes need help coming up with study techniques - like highlighting notes, using sticky notes, organizing their notebooks, etc.

I've had teachers I respect tell me the best predictor of academic success is organizational skills, not intelligence. I don't know if that's true, but helping your daughter learn to get organized would be very, very helpful for her.

Having said all that, the truth is that she's halfway into her junior year of high school. So speaking only for myself, it would be pretty late into the game to be on my daughter's case for something I've let go her whole life to this point. If this situation was mine, I'd help my daughter all she wanted, but I don't think I'd go toe-to-toe over it at this point in life.

I hope you find something that works for all of you. Enjoy the holidays with your daughter, teens grow up so fast.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2009 at 6:45PM
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Some of my advice and suggestions may sound harsh, but it needs to be said if you want your daughter to succeed in school and go to college. And yes, I was a high school teacher. I also have a high school sophomore and a college freshman.

1. Stop making excuses for her and stop buying into her excuses. Don't blame her teachers or poor counselors. I never let my kids use bad teachers as an excuse. She chose not to do her homework. She might be smart, but she made some bad decisions. Chemistry and Algebra are classes that often build upon previous knowledge. Those homework assignments help students understand those concepts so they can do well on the tests.

2. It's time for you to step up if you want her to succeed. My daughter's junior year was filled with AP and honors classes. At one point she was ready to quit. I refused to let her do it. She needed me to step up. I offered to help her in any way that I could, but she HAD to do the work. I'll always recall one night when I stayed up with her very late to help her focus, organize, and study for a test. She was mad about it, but when I told her that I refused to let her throw away 2.5 years of great grades because I love her and want her to succeed she got over it pretty quickly.

Even today I ask my bright son (soph) everyday about homework. It's annoying to him, but he does recognize that it's part of my job as his parent. When he moans about the question I remind him that it is part of my job to make sure he is doing his job (school).

Demanding that homework be done immediately after school never worked with my children. They need a mental break, but after dinner it was/is the rule that no TV or cell phones were permitted until homework was done. If they slacked off, they needed to do their homework in the kitchen. Tell her that while she may have given up on herself, you refuse to do so. Tell her that she may not like it, and that's fine, but you will make sure her homework is done until she proves herself. We've always told our children that school is their job. Take away the phone, etc.

It really is okay for your child to not like you sometimes. It's even fine to acknowledge to them that they may not like you. This maybe one of those times.

Get in touch with her teachers. Let them know that you are committed to helping your daughter. Ask them to let you know, maybe once a week or so, if homework is missing, etc. Ask them how you can help her. (Some schools have grades online for parents and students so you can check this yourself.) Yes, she should be doing these things herself by now, but she is not. It's time for you to step in as her parent to get her back on track.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2009 at 7:34PM
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I am a teacher. Frankly Algebra II and Chemistry are the hardest subject at a high school level. It could be that these subjects are legitimatelly difficult for her and she does not do her homework because it is just too hard! My DD is National Merit Scholarship semifinalist and has near perfect SAT score-2200 out of 2400 (perfect in both reading and writing, math is a bit lower). Yet she nearly failed Chemistry, barelly had C- ,and at some points had hard time with math as well.

Talk to her teachers, see what the issue is. Also there are other options such as community colleges etc, not a big deal. As about summer school ask her school, every district has its own policy. Our summer school is free for students, so you can only take it if you trully fail the class.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2009 at 4:47PM
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You have had good advice from the other posters. Something is clearly wrong. Your daughter seems rather immature and is not handling her crisis well. You must step in. No more phone privileges until her homework is done. No phone privileges until her grades improve. Get her a tutor for both subjects. Someone will have to help her go back to the beginning of the course and catch up in everything she failed to master.

Chemestry and Algebra 2 are difficult classes, but in today's comprehensive high schools, even more difficult classes than these are offered. If she can show a university that while she got into academic trouble, that she turned it around and now is on the road to performing at her academic best, she can still possibly snatch a modicum of victory from the jaws of defeat, perhaps even impress the university admissions officer.

Some bright kids can get along without doing the work and still make good grades in class, especially if the teacher reviews everything that will be on the test. But eventually it catches up with them when the course work and subject matter are more demanding. At that point, they flounder while other students with considerably less brain power do better than your child because they have learned how to study and improve their skills, and your child has not. The lucky bright kid hits this crisis much sooner than yours has so that Mom and Dad can help correct the problem before that important junior year. Hire a tutor, and use his or her services during vacations too in order to catch up.

I also wonder about your child's emotional health. Teens in high school and college can develop bipolar problems, and that throws their lives way off track. Be sure there is nothing medical contributing to her problems. Curtail telephone use, romancing, socializing and distractions such as TV while she is digging her way out of this mess.
Consider grounding her till grades improve, including the privilege of extra curricular activities and after school jobs. Weekends and weekdays.

Colleges do not accept D grades on a high school transcript. So for any required course to apply, your student must earn a C or better. She will have to repeat the semesters in summer school or next year or semester. She can also make arrangements to use community college classes for remediation. Talk to her counselor about this possibility.

She can alway start her college career at the local community college if she has already closed the door to the university of her choice. If she earns stellar grades, she can then apply to those selective universities as a sophomore or junior with a strong advantage.

I suggest you make an appointment for both of you with her counselor to ask important questions and seek advice. She probably feels she has dug a hole she cannot get out of. You need to help her turn her life around by being a wise, loving, and strict parent.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 8:09PM
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cornflake, You mentioned that your daughter will be working with a tutor. I think that's the best idea posted on this thread and I strongly encourage you to keep it going next summer- Yes, weekly through the entire summer - and then through next year if needed with whatever math/science your daughter takes.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2010 at 1:12PM
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I don't know the whole situation, obviously, but I am going to go out on a limb here:

You are her problem.

You paid $1000 for a trip for a junior???
Are you trying to buy her or does she expect this?

You "don't know what to do to help her"???
Let her fail, mother.

LET HER FAIL by her own choices.

If you solve all her little dilemmas, she will never develop the life skills she is GOING TO NEED to live life.

Let her suffer the consequences of her own decisions.

It is the best advice you will ever get and I hope to heavens you heed it.

Otherwise , and remember my words, she WILL blame you for every unhappiness and failure in her life and your well-meaning heart will be broken.

I know this for a fact.

You need tough love and there is not better time than the present.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2010 at 8:16AM
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