Unrealistic Expectations?

Note: This may sound like ranting (and it may be), but there are some serious questions at the end.

I gave my seniors an alternative assessment on piecewise functions. I told them that this would count for a quiz grade on piecewise functions. I handed out graph paper with the questions. I told them that I expected complete sentences. I assigned this on Tuesday (due on Friday). I told them to please see me before or after school if they had questions. On Wednesday, I asked if there were any questions on the assignment. On Thursday, I reminded them of the assignment and again asked if there were any questions.

There was a table with three different companies, listing the shipping rates charged by each for three different weight categories.

The tasks:
1. Write a piecewise function for shipping x pounds with…
2. Write a piecewise function for shipping x pounds with…
3. Write a piecewise function for shipping x pounds with…
4. On the same set of axes, graph…
5 – 7 Asked questions about shipping choices.

Of the 36 (out of 46) that were turned in:

  • 6 students did not have any graphs
  • 7 students did not graph piecewise functions
  • I stopped counting the number who did not use complete sentences
  • I stopped counting the number who did not graph the functions on the same set of axes

Overall, many students did well and seemed to understand the concept, 33% earned a B or higher. Despite this, the stats were definitely skewed to the left – loooong tail. (I know, I can’t help it – I’m a geek and calculate stats for every major assignment). Overall, fourth period did considerably better than did eighth period. Fourth period also asked questions on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday about the assignment. I need to figure out why there is such a discrepancy.

I am just amazed by the number of students who didn’t turn in the assignment or didn’t follow directions – and never came in for help. Are my expectations too high? These are seniors who are taking their fourth year of high school mathematics. They have taken Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. They are preparing for college next year.

Is it unrealistic that I expect them to take information, synthesize it, and deliver a product where they are asked to make interpretations? I know these are higher order thinking skills. Is this too much to expect from “average” level students? I hope not. If it isn’t, how do I not become overwhelmed when my expectations aren’t met?

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9 Responses to Unrealistic Expectations?

  1. mathmom says:

    I can’t really answer your questions as to whether your expectations are reasonable or not. (The *seem* reasonable to me, but I just don’t know.) But I have one question or potential piece of feedback. Did you just tell them that you expected complete sentences, or was that written on the assignment itself? Because, I figure you can’t expect them to remember anything that’s not written down…

  2. Jackie says:

    Well I “just” told them. Then in each class, we had a discussion about “IM” speak & how it isn’t appropriate for formal writing. Many students wrote “complete sentences” on the assignment sheet.

    But come on – they are seniors in high school. At this point do I have to tell them to write in complete sentences on a major assignment? Did I have to tell them indicate the scale on each axis? Apparently I should have, because many did not. Should I have said “Use a straightedge” when drawing your lines? How much is just understood?

    I tell these things to my underclassmen. Maybe my expectations are too high.

    I just don’t know how we’re preparing them for life after high school though.

  3. mathmom says:

    Do you think these kids care about their grades in your class?

    If so then mark them down for not doing what you told/expected them to do, and they will soon learn to follow directions and abide by reasonable, unstated expectations like using a straight-edge, complete sentences, etc.

    I wonder if you allowing them to re-do a quiz backfires on you somewhat here. What is the reward for following instructions the first time? (I guess that they don’t “have to” do it again to get a good grade.) If they’re having a busy week when you first assign the assessment, it seems like they could just dash off a piece of junk, knowing that they will be allowed to re-do it later. To be honest, even though you want to reward students for learning the material, whenever the manage to learn it, I do think there should be a premium on getting it right the first time.

    As to how you’re preparing them for life after high school, perhaps that has to evolve throughout the year. Gradually increase your expectations? Again, if they care about their grades, then I think you can just flunk them all on the first few assignments, until the realize that they have to listen to what you tell them and use common sense. I think they are capable of learning your expectations, even if they don’t meet them on their first try. šŸ™‚

  4. Jackie says:

    Do I think they care about their grades? Most of them – no. Really the “grades” don’t matter to me personally – what I care about is what they are learning (which would show in the grades anyway – if I’m doing it right šŸ˜‰ ). Of course grades now matter as it is a district initiative to reduce the numbers of D’s & F’s (weekly reporting).

    As for the retake of the quizzes – I’d say that was a factor if more of them were actually retaking the quizzes. I’ve only had 7 retakes so far. Many seem to be happy if that they are passing. It’s that “what do I need to do to get a D” attitude that I just don’t know how to overcome.

    Do I allow all assignments to be redone? It is on a case by case basis. The kids who are coming in every morning at 6:45 to get extra help – yep. The kids who are just blowing it off – nope. They have to meet with me in order to redo an assignment/quiz. Most aren’t willing to do so.

    I know they are capable of meeting my expectations, and I don’t want them to do it to make me happy – but I do want them to learn to give their best efforts and take pride in doing so. Is that so wrong? Oh yeah, I also want them to learn the math (that’s a given).

    How did parent night go? Will there be a post about that soon?

  5. Dan says:

    Jackie, I think your expectations are fine for this level of student. If you stick to them, and continue to coach the students, most of them will rise to meet them. It will just take some time. I would copy some of the assignments onto overheads – good, bad, and ugly. Go over them with the classes, discussing what was good and bad about each. Let them see clear models of what kind of work you expect. Stick to your guns and give lots of low grades on the first few assignments – you can always weight the later ones more heavily when they start to improve. You might also want to force them to redo this assignment during class as a graded assessment.

    I love the fact that we don’t give out Ds at my school. If this is a real problem, do you have liberty to change your grading scale so that a D is, say, 70 – 75%? That’ll light some fires under them. šŸ™‚

  6. mathmom says:

    If you’re asking me about parent night, it was only 10 minutes in each room, during which the teacher generally said a few words about what they’d be teaching that semester, how to contact them if we needed to, etc. Parents were not invited to ask questions or rant about the underlying educational philosophy. šŸ™‚ I’m still contemplating whether I should email the math teacher (or someone else?) about the misuse (IMO) of calculators in the honors geometry class. I emailed the math teacher twice already to point out resources she might be interested in. I kind of reluctant to make any enemies this early in my son’s HS career. šŸ˜‰

    As to your students, if they don’t care about their grades, it is probably hard to motivate them. Then again, if they don’t care about their grades, is preparing them for life after high school (college?) really an issue? You say they are “preparing for college” but will a D in math really get them there?

    You care about more than whether or not they’re learning the math, as evidenced by the fact that you expect them to turn in neat assignments, write in complete sentences, etc.

    So, even if you could motivate them to “learn the math” because you can make them believe that knowing it will make their futures easier in some way, I don’t know how you can motivate them to “jump through the hoops” to get a good grade on the assignment.

    I had forgotten that you make students meet with you in order to “qualify” to re-do the assignments. That makes sense to me.

  7. Jackie says:


    Thanks for the tip. I copied two different graphs on transparencies today (no names of course). We had a discussion in both classes about their merits/deficits (of course, 4th’s discussion was better than 8th’s). We’ll see if it helps in the future. As for changing the grading scale… I’m supposed to be lowering the number of D/F’s in each class. I have to report these grades every week.


    I don’t know what to say about your son’s class. That’s a tough situation. As for preparing my seniors…I think this is going to be a process, not an event. I’m sure I’ll be writing about this in the future.


  8. e says:

    But come on – they are seniors in high school. At this point do I have to tell them to write in complete sentences on a major assignment?

    Jackie, I couldn’t help but giggle a bit when I read that. I have a student in my math methods course who said to me the first day “Come on, we’re in math class, we don’t have to write”. He was wrong on both accounts šŸ™‚ Unfortunately, he is not the only one. If we have hard time explaining to college students (some of whom want to be teachers themselves) that it is important to write in complete sentences and back up your claims, then I can see how it could be hard to convey the same to high school seniors. But I hope you keep on trying.


  9. Jackie says:

    e –
    I too was amazed by the number of people in my math & math ed courses that didn’t see the “value” in explaining their mathematical thinking.

    I guess we’ll both keep trying – glad you got a giggle out of it though!

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