Homework in Middle School

Parent Q&A

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  • My bright and capable 13-year-old daughter works all evening, each evening, and throughout most Saturdays and Sundays. She's getting Fs in most of her classes because she's not getting her work completed. She works extremely slowly and meticulously. (Always has. When she was in kindergarten her teacher made her a mock remote control with a fast-forward button.) I hate to know she's sitting all day in school, then see her sitting all evening and throughout weekends. Wisdom tells me I'm not the person to guide her to "Just get it done... you can't spend that kind of time on every assignment!" Any recommendations? (including recommendations for tutors or time management coaches to help "retrain" her) 

    Your poor daughter, what a struggle! Have you ever had her tested for a learning difference? It sounds like she may have a type of processing disorder or even ADD that requires intervention. I would encourage you to reach out to her school district or one of the people recommended on this site for an evaluation. Even careful working all day and night and weekends would yield more than "F's" in her classes - good luck to you!!

    It sounds like she might have a processing disorder or even dyslexia. I would have her assesses asap for a learning disability. If that’s the case you can then provide the best kind of supports to help her along with accommodations. It’s a complicated process but the first step is to make a written request for an IEP assessment to the District . They will have 30 days to respond. 

    Hi there. I'm so glad you're tackling this now. She will truly struggle in HS with much more HW. I don't have a coach to recommend but I would like to strongly suggest you have her evaluated for ADD, for Anxiety and for a possible processing disorder. You can request this via your school. Do it in writing and there are laws requiring them to comply within a short period of time. We could not understand what was going on with our bright son, whose grades did not reflect his intellect. The school testing was extremely comprehensive and very very helpful, and an entire team will help her, at no cost to you. 

    I’m sorry you are dealing with this. I’m a teacher as well as a mom and I would suggest you push the school to test your daughter. If they won’t you may need to get a private assessment. Sounds like she has some kind of learning difference that is having a significant impact. You need to know what’s going on so a 504 or IEP can be developed for her. She sounds like an amazingly diligent person, she hasn't given up and it must be so hard for her!! Help is out there but you will need to advocate for her. Good luck! 

    This was kind of my child at that age (all As unfortunately, because this added to her problems). It turned out she has perfectionism obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and basically had OCD since she was a toddler but undiagnosed until 15. I highly encourage you to have her seen by a specialist in anxiety/ocd and perhaps educational testing to see what the problem might be. Most general practitioners don’t know much about OCD and the wrong treatment can make it worse. See this article from the international ocd foundation. 

    I would look for an educational therapist for support outside of school. Ed Therapists are trained in supporting students with all kinds of learning challenges, which is more comprehensive than finding a tutor.  There is a national organization, Association for Educational Therapists, that has information and referrals.

    Also check the website: <Understood.org>

    Poor girl, that sounds so exhausting! Have you considered her evaluated for OCD?

    Our daughter, now 23, had a similar problem with school starting in 1-2nd grade when the homework load increased. We hired college kids to come weekends and evenings as "executive function coaches" to help her plan and get through her homework. It took the pressure off us, preserved our relationship, and helped her develop new skills, which she used through college. We also had her undergo a lot of neuropsych testing, which indicated she was highly intelligent but very "right brained". However, after all the testing and subsequent recommendations for educational therapy, she interpreted it as her having a "learning disability" and "less than" all her peers. Now at age 23, which she feels gave her long-term trauma, mostly related to our high expectations of her needing to be achievement oriented in order be loved and accepted by us.

    In college she found her own practitioners, and got diagnoses for ADHD and bipolar disorder, and medicated for both. She says it helped her, but I know that everyone can feel cognitive benefits from ADHD meds. Her case is complicated, in that she has other medical issues and covid hit and she took a break from college until in-person classes resumed. She is functioning independently living away from home still pursuing her college degree and is financially supported by us. Hopefully she will graduate in a year or so and find a career where she can support herself.

    I think a recent breakthrough for her was that she started considering that she has OCD. I started researching it myself and realized that I had classic signs of OCD as a kid myself. It is a very misunderstood condition, and can present in children as ADHD. The compulsions to do things perfectly and not be able to finish school work or projects until they are "just right" are classic symptoms of OCD. OCD can interfere with young peoples ability to do well in school. Luckily I have found her a practitioner who specializes in OCD Therapy, and I am hopefully that this will help her with the many areas of her life that are affected.

    If you can find someone to evaluate her for OCD and find a therapist to help, maybe she would benefit. Good luck!

    I think your child needs to be evaluated by a psychologist-soon. You say she’sbright and capable but she is not capable- she can’t get her work done no matter how much time she has- so something is preventing her from being successful. She is failing. She may have a psychological or learning disorder that can be treated!

    You didn't mention whether you'd already explored this possibility, but I have a child with ADHD, and I would recommend that you get your child evaluated for a learning disability ASAP. Some learning disabilities are not obvious, and ADHD is particularly undiagnosed in girls as it doesn't always present with the typical "can't stop moving" hyperactivity that many people associate with it. Many kids with learning disabilities learn to compensate because they're bright, but this huge effort to compensate can take a serious toll on their confidence, energy, and self-worth over time. If your child is working all evening and all weekend and still not completing her homework, that's just not right. She shouldn't have to do that -- no child should. Getting a diagnosis from a neuropsychologist can help you find the right specialists and tutors, and it can also help you work with your daughter's school to make sure she isn't spending all her waking hours on homework.

    In the near term, you should also communicate with her teachers and let them know how much time these assignments are taking, because I'm sure most teachers would not want a student to spend all available free time on homework. (Sometimes "giving extra time to finish" does more harm than good, as it means a kid never stops working.) It would be more appropriate to have an arrangement where your daughter works on an assignment for a set period of time (an hour, for example), and then even if she doesn't finish, a parent signs off to show that she did an hour's work. It may not be as much about "retraining" your child as it is about readjusting expectations at school. If you seek out a diagnosis, specialists can help you navigate this type of issue. Additionally, it can be helpful for your child emotionally to understand her own learning style and to have academic goals that are better tailored to her needs. Getting "F's" in all subjects despite a lot of time and effort is a red flag that this current academic situation is not working for her -- not the other way around. 

    f your child is working all day, all evening and even weekends but getting Fs something is off. You may need some help figuring out what that is.  Some possibilities that come to mind: ADHD/ inattentive type (she looks likes she's working but her mind is elsewhere); an auditory or visual processing disorder (she is missing information others assume she has and/ or it takes her much longer to process information and produce answers); or a specific learning disability (despite her intelligence she learns differently and is not benefiting fully from the classroom instruction.)

    A good place to start for assessments is with your child’s school if she is in public school.  They can assess for learning disabilities and ADHD.  Talk to the teacher, principal or school psychologist about how to start this process.  If the problem is a processing disorder an outside neuropsych assessment  may be needed.  Once you have a better idea what the problem is your daughter can have a 504 plan to modify the workload or an IEP for additional services.  

    Hope these thoughts are helpful.  Best of luck to you and your daughter

    Given the fact that she's getting Fs, you might want to ask the school to do an evaluation for learning differences. You can go to DREDF https://dredf.org, to get more information on how to do this, but basically you write a letter to the school requesting an evaluation. They are required to do one within 60 days. This seems like a situation that needs more than just tutoring or coaching, or at least to rule out other causes than perfectionism.

    Hi there - just a quick clarification on the IEP evaluation process - once you send an email asking for an assessment, the district has 15 calendar days to respond with either an assessment plan or a letter detailing why they will not agree to assess. If you get an assessment plan, the district then has 60 calendar days from the date of you signing the plan to assess your daughter and hold what’s called an initial IEP meeting, where the team (including you) discusses eligibility for specialized instruction. During this process, you can request a 504 plan if you can get an interim diagnosis of ADHD, anxiety or depression, etc., from your pediatrician. Hope this helps. Please feel free to reach out. 

    Our child had the same problems. They were definitely a perfectionist (at younger ages they would wear holes into homework assignments erasing imperfectly written letters), but it turned out that the real problem was an executive function disorder. Because they had no sense of time or timing, they were never able to assess whether they were working slowly, nor estimate how long something might take to complete. They would simply work on it until it was done, whether it took 45 minutes or 4 hours. Only then would they move on to another assignment. They were a straight A student, but because of the perfectionism they refused to sleep until everything was done. We got them an academic coach who immediately identified the EFD (we’d never heard of this before), and he was able to work constructively with them until they graduated from high school. They also chose a small, liberal arts college that had support services for this particular LD, including peer support groups and individual coaching. They have also worked very hard to build skills and workarounds that work for them. They graduated several years ago, and they live as an independent adult. They hold a job, pay their rent, provide for their own needs, enjoy time alone and with friends, and engage in activism for issues they hold dear.

    We never had our kid tested because by the time we realized there was an issue beyond what we had thought was just spaciness we were told that testing wouldn’t really do much beyond slap a label on them. They had developed workarounds for school, and they are very bright, so their teachers had no idea there was a problem. Teachers were puzzled by the amount of time homework took them, but never thought there might be an LD.

     I’m relating this to reassure you that there is light at the end of this tunnel. We did not have the additional pressure of our child earning Fs in school, but the upside to your situation is your child’s teachers won’t need to be convinced that something is amiss. They also have time to get their problem(s) identified and develop strategies. In the meantime, I suggest focusing on your child’s self-esteem. The situation must be very discouraging, and your child may be blaming themself for their “deficiency.” Make sure they know that you know how hard they work, and try to ensure they spend time doing things they enjoy and are good at. Whether a sport or an art or cooking or whatever, point out that they can do this thing, and do it well, and complete projects. They are not their grades; they are not a failure.

    Best of luck to you all!

    School psychologist here. I would look at getting your daughter evaluated. Have them look at processing speed. You would need to talk to one of her teachers at the middle school about the process of getting her tested for special education services. Based on her getting "Fs" there is something that is impacting her ability to access the curriculum. If you are at a private school you can still request an evaluation. 

    My nine year old was just diagnosed with slow processing speed. This often comes as a secondary diagnosis/“part of the package” with adhd, ocd, ASD—but sometimes it’s just its own thing. She’s extremely bright and in an odd way I guess this makes the problem even worse— there’s a LOT of complex thought going on in her head but it’s as if everything going in and out has to get funneled through a very small straw… more complexity = more time to process, and it also means the gap between how bright she is and how bright she seems will become pretty big without intervention. I’m joining the chorus here but please get a neuropsych evaluation pronto. And also PLEASE let her know it’s likely a matter of neurodiversity and not character or intelligence. I was diagnosed with ADD in college but in light of my kid’s diagnosis I think it’s more likely I too have slow processing speed…I was an A+ student but always got things in late, after spending 4x as much time on them as my peers, and routinely failed timed exams because I couldn’t finish them in time no matter how hard I studied. With accommodations I graduated phi beta kappa and went on to get a masters from an Ivy school—but had I not gotten a diagnosis and time accommodations, I probably would have flunked out of college. It’s a huge deal.

    I would suggest getting her evaluated by a private neuropsychologist who specializes in ADHD. You can go through the schools but it is in their interest to delay and deny any sort of testing or accommodations so unfortunately you might not get a thorough or unbiased perspective which is why I recommend going the private route. Wait lists for assessments often range into the months (I've heard 6-8 months) so in the meantime you might want to connect with Classroom Matters to help her with "executive functioning tutoring" (they have regular subject matter tutors as well). I believe they have summer workshops for kids (and parents) that might be helpful. They have been lifesavers for my daughter with executive functioning support and also recommended a neuropsychologist to do the ADHD evaluation. Tatiana at CM has been a staunch and fierce advocate for my daughter as we've been battling BUSD for accommodations. www.classroommatters.com

    I just joined BPN and came across your Question.  I am a retired teacher from a local school district, and I know how frustrating it can be for parents of students that have learning challenges.  Our son struggled with conventional classroom learning (we never pursued a diagnosis, but I'd call it something like Executive Function Disorder) in the Albany schools.  It started in 5th grade, and in 6th grade, when students change classes and have different teachers for different subjects, he imploded.  Eventually, we enrolled him in a private school called Tilden Prep (located on Solano Ave in Albany, and also in Walnut Creek).  The students are taught one-on-one with teachers, so the learning progresses at your child's pace.  The teachers seem highly qualified and dedicated to the students.  The administration is very supportive, too.  The teachers provide a short written report (stored online, which you can access) after every "class" with the student, so you are kept up to date almost in "real time."  They offer middle school and high school, and yes it is expensive (private school; 1 on 1 learning) but it got our son through high school.  He's a smart kid, but just wasn't able to plug-in to the conventional learning style.  

  • My daughter is in 7th grade at King. I am surprised by how little homework (close to none) she has each night and how little school work she ever has to show. My daughter is bright and academically motivated, although probably not particularly gifted. Am I crazy to think the academics at King are lacking?I have seen almost no writing, minimal math and very little science since the year started. She is getting top grades in her classes so I know she is completing her assignments. 

     Looking for reassurance. 

    Homework is supposed to be an extension of what's been learned in class and there is research that shows that homework is not necessarily good for kids, especially too much of it. Since its the beginning of the year some teachers may still be reviewing last year or setting kids up for the routines they may be working on this year. There may be more homework coming or her teachers may take the "less is better" approach. As far as class work coming home- CA has adopted the Common Core state standards which focus on communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Learning in the 21st century is about having deep conversations about topics/issues/problems and understanding them conceptually and being able to share and explain your thinking with others, solving problems in different ways using different strategies, etc. Its about going deeper to gain knowledge not just filling out a worksheet or knowing an algorithm. This may be the reason work isn't coming home. Teachers don't really teach with worksheets anymore. If you go to your daughter's classes ask to see some of the work she's doing in class. You may see different kinds of journals for  writing, math, reading.. you will probably see graphic organizers which are just a way to organize your thinking about different ideas. She's probably having alot of small group, partner, and whole class discussions (hopefully). this type of learning does not translate to papers coming home in a backpack. 

    I have an 8th grader at King and she had almost no homework last year. Even less than in 6th grade (which was even less than in 5th grade). I am not a fan of homework, so this aspect would not have bothered me had she been really engaged and challenged during the school day. Unfortunately she wasn't. 7th grade was really hard, and the academics (or lack thereof) were a big part of it. I know some of it was the mix of teachers she got because some of her friends had more interesting things they were working on. This year seems better already, though homework is still minimal. I still think she should have to work a bit harder for those 4s, but then again it's just middle school ;) 

    The new style is "no homework." I doubt you can change the minds of the teachers. I would make sure that at least my kids were reading and writing every day. Read books together and discuss them. It can be books about anything: politics, history, art, novels, science, biography. And writing every day. Maybe a sort of diary on a subject that interests her like clothes or makeup or sports. 

    This question is best asked first of her teachers, or by reviewing the class syllabi.  Do the teachers have students collect work in a portfolio to review at the end of the semester?  Is work filed in a binder and kept on a shelf in the back of a classroom?

    Has the Back to School Night yet occurred?  If not, perhaps her teachers are keeping work to show parents until that date.

    It's not clear if you are directly equating quality of academic instruction with number of hours or minutes spent on homework.  If, by chance, you are, please understand that they are not the same, and that wise teachers are careful to only send home beneficial practice work, taking care not to load kids up on busywork.

     I have two middle schoolers.  If given the choice, I'd much rather they do very difficult work in the classroom, with minimal review for homework, and that much of their evening time was reserved for time to rest, to participate in family events and chores, and to get ahead on their own self-motivated projects and studies of interest.

  • Hi all,

    Trying, like many of you i'm sure, to figure out how to walk the fine line of encouraging my motivated son to try hard at homework but not to the point that it starts to impact his emotional well being. He just started at a high achieving public middle school in SF and has been doing about 2 hours of homework a night. (or day since he squeezes in some of it before 8:30). I know the rule of thumb is supposed to be 10 minutes per grade. So according to those guideline's it's too much, but I don't see a way of getting his teachers to follow this. The other factor in all of this is my own values and temperament. I'm *not* a high achiever and I value my mental & physical health above achievements and so I don't push myself too hard.  I know my son is different, he's a high achiever and it's important to him to do well. So, I'm struggling with figuring out what is best for my son. Encourage him, even though he's cranky and emotional? Maybe reward him or give him breaks while studying? Or have him pull back on homework which will make him upset to see his grades slip? 

    Anyone have any parenting pearls of wisdom to share?  

    It's so stressful seeing our kids stress out on homework when we know the opportunity cost is their well-being plus other things that are important in life -- friends, downtime, music, leisure reading, pondering the meaning of life, etc. One suggestion is to email all of the teachers and tell them the total # of hours per night of homework -- sometimes teachers don't realize how it all adds up and think they're only assigning a small amount so there's no problem. You might also ask the administration if they subscribe to the 10 min/grade rule (which, in my opinion, is too much!) and, if so, how do they suggest the issue be resolved for your son. Lastly, one thing I'm trying is to frame the homework issue like this: "Between school hours and homework hours, my son is working a 45 hour workweek. Is it the school's intention and desire that a 14-year old should be spending 45 hours/week on academics?"

    My daughter is/was the same way. Just make sure he manages his time to be in bed by 9:30 pm most of the time, this will limit some of the crankiness. If he is like my daughter, doing well in school is good for his self-esteem and a testament to his perseverance, so don't try to hinder his work. Make sure he has sleep, exercise, and healthful food, then leave the rest up to him.

    I realize the reply I just posted wasn't very responsive to your concerns. In terms of supporting your son's choice to pursue high achievement, if anxiety is a factor, I subscribe for my son to a program called gozen.com -- it's a self-guided stress management tutorial for kids and teens. It looks high quality to me but I can't vouch for it yet b/c my son hasn't had time to try it out yet (and quite possibly never will b/c of the homework overload).  

    Another thought is to engage your son in a conversation about whether this school is still what he wants now that he knows what it's like. If he reflects on what he's sacrificing for the sake of academic achievement, maybe he would reconsider and choose a different school (though it may be hard to find a school that doesn't pile on the homework).

    I had two hours a night of homework in Middle School, and I think it helped me become a better student. as long as he is getting his sleep...

    Maybe ask his teachers if it is supposed to take that long to do his homework? I think that sometimes they aren't clued into how long it is actually taking, or they're not aware of the amount that's being assigned by others. I wonder what the school's expectations of him are?

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Middle School Homework Ruining Our Life

March 2011

Our 6th grade daughter was tested by the school for ADD because she has had trouble with concentration and focus (not ADHD). Homework has been a battle since day 1 of Kindergarten. She is intelligent and creative, and does reasonably well on tests and quizzes if she understands the material. She went through testing with school counselors who found her too high-functioning to qualify for an IEP or 504 plan. This means that the testing won't be on her record and we'll have to jump through hoops with her teachers for the rest of her school career. Her teachers have sidestepped my requests to adapt the homework load - everything must be finished, everything must be made up, before she qualifies for a grade on the item. The school is known for its rigorous curriculum; it happens to be our neighborhood school. Between math and core classes she is expected to do between 2.5 and 4 hours of work a night - on top of a 7-hour school day. It has stretched out till 10 pm. She has great difficulty following directions so it's very hard to help her make up assignments - the teacher keeps insisting she writes them down incorrectly but, hey, can we get a syllabus? no. Is the teacher available to help her figure the assignments out? No.

Today she was given a busywork assignment that was such a blatant waste of time I nearly cried. She's already getting an F in this subject and... it adds up to several hours worth of coloring. I am all for coloring. I know she loves art. But this kind of assignment adds nothing to her understanding of the subject. ANY subject.

Daughter loves her school (because she doesn't know any better), likes her teachers, loves her friends, is interested in the class material. But the homework is just too much, and we can no longer drag her through every assignment every day and every weekend. Should we just resign ourselves to accepting F's till the ''executive functions kick in with maturity'' as the counselor suggested? Should we appeal to the district? Is there any agency that offers outside testing affordably? We are under-employed so can't afford much.

Would appreciate any insight folks can offer. * Dazed and Confused

My daughter went through this and we battled BUSD for 3 years, finally getting an attorney and winning. She now has an IEP at BHS and doing better than ever before when she was asked to do work far beyond her capacity to organize. I am glad to talk with you off line to help know how to navigate some of this with school district and with your daughter. Notthat we have done great, but we have learned a lot along the way since first grade when problems with focus and attention started to become problems. m.

I empathize with you and your daughter for the homework situation that you describe. I remember the countless hours my daughter spent on assignments that seemed like silly busywork. It is extremely frustrating to have to work so hard in terms of the time it takes on something that doesn't even seem like an enriching learning experience. And then the added frustration of not having the cooperation of her teachers to provide your daughter with a syllabus that helps your daughter keep track of assignments makes it even more challenging. Have you tried to talk to the school principal about this?

The demands made on your daughter in terms of the amount of homework she'll have in school will only get more demanding as time goes on if she's at a typical k-12 school. Waiting for executive function to kick in doesn't sound like an effective means of addressing the frustration you're feeling, or of getting your daughter the help she needs to turn in her work, completed, and on time.

Having a third party to help always seemed to work for us. I know you said you don't have a lot of resources for outside help but maybe you could try finding an academically inclined teenager to help her a few times a week? Or form a kind of informal homework study hour with a buddy from school who is working on the same assignment? If she's working on busywork at least she can have company while she gets it done.

It sounds like she's going to need some support to get through the demands of school and you may need to keep trying different things to see what works for her. It is frustrating but don't give up! Hang in there!

Was there a complete assessment for special education and 504, a meeting to discuss the results and information about what to do if you disagree? If so, and you believe your daughter needs services or support, you may write a letter to the district saying that you do not agree with its assessments and will be getting an Independent Educational Evaluation at district expense. It sounds like she should qualify for a 504 plan to make accommodations for her homework. Please feel free to contact me for more information about next steps.

Contact DREDF. If her ADD is so severe that the homework is taking 4 hours a night she should be eligible for a 504 plan. Also, odd as this sounds, if she is failing the class your case is strengthened. anon

My heart broke when I read your post. My now 19-year-old son struggled with the same issues throughout middle school and high school. He was finally diagnosed with ADD as a high school sophomore and went on Adderall but the school environment was so negative that he ended up quitting and taking his GED. I wish I could tell you that his ''executive functions kicked in with maturity.'' He has taken some community college courses but struggles with organizational skills and boredom with the mundane homework. What I would do if I could do it all over again is homeschool him. He seemed to like his school and the thought of homeschooling was very unappealing to me. I had a much younger child at home, was not well physically, and honestly needed him to go to school. Yet I have heard stories from others who had similar struggles with bright underachievers who blossomed in a home learning environment with the support of a home-school network. The other thing I wish I had known was about the nutritional factors that exacerbate ADD. I am now studying holistic nutrition, and I have spent the last 5 years healing from celiac disease. Recent research indicates that celiac disease and various food additives (glutamates, food colorants) may play a role in neurological disorders like ADD. Not all celiac sufferers have the typical gastrointestinal symptoms. I urge you to seek the help of an integrative physician who can test your daughter for celiac and food sensitivities and look outside the box to treat her ADD. ( I'm hoping to get my son to agree to celiac testing and diet changes, though 19 year olds are not known for heding the advice of their well-meaning parents.) As far as the school environment, I'm disgusted with the direction our schools are heading in terms of busywork homework. It serves our future bean counters well but creative thinkers, not so much. If my daughter faces a similar situation at her school (we have since moved away from my son's district) you'd better believe I'll be searching for a better environment, even if it's home schooling. Wish I knew then what I know now

In reading your problem with the ''rigorous'' school, these items stand out: 1) the school claims your daughter is the problem (she does not qualify for any exceptions due to a disability), 2) your daughter has always had issues with homework (not specified - perhaps those issues have changed over the years), 3) if a student falls behind in his/her studies, everything must be made-up, no exceptions, which means that eventually no student no matter how ''bright'' can overcome the incompletes, and 4) teachers are not available for office hours for students - it's sink or swim, plus the teachers will not produce a written outline of the course so you can anticipate and plan.

The most damning statement here is that this ''rigorous'' school assigns ''busywork''.

So now ask yourself this: ''What kind of rigorous school assigns busywork and useless assignments, doesn't provide any syllabus or course planner for students, doesn't provide any instruction outside of the class and lets a student fail due to incompletes''?

I'll tell you what the answer is - a school in crisis.

It is not rigorous - it is simply trying to keep students and parents rushing on a madly accelerating treadmill, hoping that worthless (to them) students fall off and solve the school's problems for them.

What are the school's problems? Budget cuts, too many students, too few instructors, you name it. The school doesn't care about your child - they care about their jobs and NCLB and STAR and money. Anybody who doesn't keep up (like your kid) is a liability - not an asset - and you are a liability to them. Accept it.

So take responsibility - home school. Take her out of school. Take a break from this madness. And realize it took years for her to work into this anxiety of busywork and race to the bottom and it will take time to work her out of it. It's not about money - it's about *time*.

I did it with my son in 6th grade. He's at UCLA now. After a time he did go back to middle school and did well. All he really needed was a break from the bad habits instantiated by failing. I wouldn't let him fail, but I wouldn't let him ''pass'' until he succeeded. I figured we had the time. The school won't.

Take ownership of the problem and stop trying to work with a system that will subvert the solution. You will be glad you did. Lynne

So sorry to hear of yet another family going through what all of us with kids with ADD/ADHD run into at some point. You are not alone. You are not crazy. Your daughter is not going to be stuck in this same spot forever. Trust me I thought my son would never get there and he has just been accepted to several good 4 year universities. He struggled through a very academic middle school (w/an iep to wade through busy work & help organize etc.) He now is a Sr. in a tough public school. B+ ave. no iep anymore. Spent 2 1/2 yrs/ of HS at a small private school to actaully be able to do the good work he is capable of. It was scary to switch but worth it. Public schools almost always neglect to tell parents that their child can qualify for services ( I.E.P. or 504 plan, general ed accomadations) under the ''other health impaired'' catagory. I am pretty sure this is still the case. Typically a diagnosis by a psychiatrist is all that's required. no messing w/point gap between IQ and working ability that necessitates complete failure.Keep asking questions. Keep an open mind. Change things up if you need to. Be kind to the teachers & do not back down. d.

I suggest you become very, very persistent in making your concerns heard. Go to the vice principal, principal, district however far you need to go to get this resolved. Consider transferring schools or asking to be moved into another class. Unfortunately, the only way to get heard sometimes is to be a complete pest. I hate to advise this, because I would so much prefer to be polite in this kind of situation, and I know they have plenty of problems to deal with. However, when I was polite before, my kid got stuck in a bad situation. The next time a similar situation came up, I just kept showing up at the counselor's and vice principal's offices until they fixed it.

You may also want to consider private testing, or redoing the public school tests. anon

Your post could have been mine several years ago. My son is in high school now, maturing slowly, but with the same severe problems with organization and short-term memory. I am a teacher and have seen many of these ''screenings'' for ADHD done by the school come out, in my opinion, totally off base. The screening tools used by the schools can be inadequate. Knowing this, I had my son tested (paid out of my own pocket) and he was diagnosed with ADD-Inattentive. This does not look like what you think of as typical hyperactivity. We had him try several different medications, and finally ended up with one that seems to help the most without changing who he is.

Take your daughter to the pediatrician and tell her/him your concerns. Try some medication; you will not regret it. The worst thing I did was wait too long. It is hard to help your child rid him/herself of feelings of frustration and inadequacy regarding the completion of tasks that her/his friends are capable of doing, not because they are smarter, but because they can focus. another mom

My 9th grade, ADDish daughter has always struggled with homework- although things have begun to improve recently. Executive functioning finally kicking in? Her wonderful therapist? I don't know, but it is a relief. I hope she will keep up the good work!

We have been extremely happy with her two (5 th grade and 9 th grade) neuropsychology evaluations at the UC Berkeley Psychology Clinic at Tolman Hall. They charge on a sliding scale, and while not inexpensive, it is a fraction of the cost of an evaluation by a private practioner. Anon

I'm so sorry to hear about what you have been going through. First of all, if you're not already familiar with it, I highly recommend you check out the CHADD website at http://www.chadd.org. Secondly, a 504 and an IEP are very different. There is much more latitude in obtaining a 504 than an IEP. My experience as a parent and teacher has been that many schools don't test for ADD. Our district recommends that families start with their pediatricians who then refer to psychologists/psychiatrists for diagnosis/testing. Some insurance plans, such as Kaiser, will cover testing.

The testing my son received (paid for by our insurance) was not as thorough as we could have obtained by paying for the assessment ourselves, but still yielded what I already knew - a diagnosis of ADHD. My son's district is quite liberal with 504 plans for any students with ADHD or ADD, regardless of whether or not they are ''high functioning''. (If your daughter is failing a course and spending hours in homework, then how could she be considered high functioning?) The criteria for a 504 includes a disability that substantially limits their abilities to learn, which sounds like it is the case for your daughter. (http://www.helpforadd.com/educational-rights/) My recommendation would be for you to read through some of the information on these links, talk to your pediatrician about getting an independent diagnosis (with specific recommendations for accommodations), and bring these documents to your district with a written request for a 504 plan. Whatever you do, please don't wait for ''executive functioning'' to kick in, (the worst advice I've ever heard!)

In the meantime, there are steps you can take to help her right away. If the coloring on homework is taking that much time - by all means help her do it (or do it for her) and let her spend her time and energy on the academic assignments. (I've seen both sides of this issue, as a teacher and a parent. Some students spend much more time on illustrations than is expected.) Also, it is reasonable for you to request that the teacher(s) initial your daughter's homework assignment list (that she writes down herself) each day, to ensure that it is complete and accurate. If the teacher is unwilling to do this, I would request a meeting with the teacher and principal. Does her school have a Student Study Team? If so, request your daughter be brought up for review. Finally, is there another school in the district that would be a better fit in terms of expectations and flexibility? Sympathetic Parent

You didn't say if your daughter actually was found to have ADD. If so, and despite being ''high-functioning'' is getting an F in one of her classes, it sounds to me like you can make a case for accommodations. I suggest contacting DREDF (its a disability rights advocacy group with a branch that deals with rights in terms of education) and explaining your situation to one of the people there and see what they say. They can give you an outline of your rights in this situation and of what you can ask of the school.

I would also investigate finding another school for her that is more accepting of different learning styles and where the teachers are more flexible about homework. This situation sounds miserable and could really turn her off to school completely. You have my sympathy. glad to have middle school in my rearview

Hi - My son is in high school and he hasn't yet outgrown his executive function issues. If your child is flunking classes because of their ADD, then they should qualify for an IEP at your school. Many schools inappropriately deny services to students with ADD or AD/HD, because these kids can perform on standardized tests in a controlled environment, but can not perform in the classroom or complete required homework. You are entitled to an independent educational evaluation from outside the district (at district expense) if you disagree with the school's evaluation. I would suggest requesting an independent eval from someone such as Dr. Carolyn Johnson. Secondly, there are a lot of organizations that might be able to give you legal advice, start with DREDF (disability rights org) in Berkeley, or PACE for help with legal issues. You really have to fight to get most school districts to do anything, especially with budgets tight. The district is required to give you a parents rights handout, read it and start contacting anyone you think might be able to give you advice or help advocate for you kid. State law specifically says that kids with ADD qualify for special services if their disability is affecting their school performance. Mom of ADD student

Dear Dazed, You have my sincere sympathy and support for this very complex and difficult problem. I have a son who was diagnosed (independently) with ADD by a highly reputable neuropsychologist, and our school district also offered little help through their evaluation process. Despite our independent evaluation, we were not able to obtain an IEP, for the same reasons--that he had not failed long enough. Despite progress made in many other states across the nation, many school districts in California still abide by the ''wait to fail'' method of identifying students who have disabilities, including those related to attention. Under this draconian system, students must demonstrate failure from as early as 2nd grade and continue to fail for for several years before they can be identified as qualifying for special education services. Students with ADD are typically not identified until later years when executive function challenges become overtaxed due to increased cognitive demands in middle and high school. The late appearance ADD symptoms gives schools who rely on failure as the only criteria for identification an easy out for denying services and accommodations to students who should have the protections covered by both IDEA and Section 504 legislation. Because your school has denied your daughter both an IEP and a 504, I would urge you to get an independent evaluation. I'd try contacting the UC Berkeley School of Psychology and inquire about a supervised evaluation by a graduate student which should cost considerably less than a private evaluation. Then go back to the school and demand a 504. Write up the accommodations you feel she must have and advocate for their inclusion. You have a right to be part of deciding what her accommodations should be. At the very least she should have accommodations for reduced assignments and no penalties for handing in late assignments. Also contact the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) in Berkeley, a special education advocacy organization for their advice. Also, I'd recommend Nolo Press's excellent Complete IEP Guide. My heartfelt support. Still Fighting

If you can manage to afford it, you should get your daughter tested privately. You and she need help advocating for her! I find your teachers and administrators lack of help shocking. Is that what publuc school is like? Have you considered finding some kind of advocate? My daughter attends private middle, school and was recently tested and needs some accommodations though her learning issues are not severe and the school has been very accommodating. Sorry you are dazed and confused

I read your post with empathy. We have one kid who was driven absolutely crazy by the same kind of rote homework, and was similar to yours -- too high-performing to qualify in his teachers' opinions for a 504 or IEP, and yet struggling with executive function issues. (We have another who actually likes her rote homework and seems to get something out of it, but she must be the exception.)

For your kid who can't stand it, I'd recommend at least looking at other schools, including Park Day. It's private, but they give financial aid, it emphasizes content over busywork and is very supportive. At least, that's what we did with our son, and it was great for him -- maintained his confidence that he is a smart student, and helped develop his intellectual and critical thinking skills, which after all is what we want from school for our kids.

Last, this may or may not apply to you -- but I really wish we had insisted and fought through getting our son formal accommodations. Our experience was that while his so-called executive functions have continued to develop, he's always struggled with subjects that require high levels of rote homework (like math or foreign language). As he's gone into high school, he's been somewhat successful at talking with teachers about accommodations he needs (such as being able to turn in late homework, sometimes with extra work done for extra credit, including alternative assignments like essays or projects instead of worksheets). But the formality of the 504/IEP requirement would have been helpful, and it would have been helpful to start him early on that so he could perhaps get used to accepting asking for accommodations, which can be challenging. If he would have grown out of it, all the better. Best of Luck

Worried about homework in Berkeley middle schools

March 2011

Our son, who is in 4th grade, is zoned to go to King middle school. He's currently in a BUSD school that has made a big effort to lessen the homework burden on families, which is great, but now he's pretty used to a fairly laid back week, homework-wise. We're getting a little worried that middle school will be a big nasty wake-up. So what's the deal? King, specifically, please, but maybe also nearby private schools. I'd like to have something to compare. What classes do the kids take, and what's been your experience with the workload? By the way, he's quick with the math homework, but is the world's biggest procrastinator when it comes to the dreaded writing. Thanks.

My son is in 8th grade at Willard, which is probably similar to King. His homework load has been quite light all through middle school. In 7th grade he had an English and history teacher who hardly ever gave homework and instead said that the whole time the students were in class they were writing or otherwise working hard. I'm actually wondering whether Berkeley High is going to be a rude awakening for my son. I would say he spends about 45 minutes a night on average on homework now. -Mary

My 3 kids all went to King and found the homework load to be very reasonable. All three played sports at King and also did extra-curriculars outside of school, and never seemed panicky or stressed about the amount of homework they had. The teachers make sure that larger writing assignments and projects are well scaffolded and broken down into ''chunks'' so kids can work on them one step at a time. My kids are all fairly organized and that probably helps, but the load did not seem unreasonable at all. --Happy MLK family

My son is a 7th grader at King, attended a BUSD elementary school prior to King. The amount of homework at King varies by teacher, but in general, starting in seventh grade, the kids have different teachers for different subjects, so the weekly homework workload is not necessarily coordinated among teachers (my son might have a history project and math test due the same day, for instance). In general, teachers at King are very good about giving feedback in terms of a student's work habits and progress in class.

Each student is given a wire-bound ''academic organizer'' from sixth grade on, and I find that my son has to be very organized to stay on top of his homework--and he's an organized, conscientious student as it is. I have more concerns about how his more scattered, dreamy younger brother, who may follow him to King in a few years, would handle the workload there.

The students at King are certainly not coddled. If anything, if they are able to keep up with the workload at King, they will be well-prepared for the rigors of high school and college.

Yes, I did see ''Road to Nowhere,'' BTW. King parent

Too Much Homework in Middle School

Feb 2006

I'm worried about my twelve-year-old son's workload. He is a seventh grader at King, and gets pretty much all A's, but not because he's ''academically gifted'', but because he works really hard.

Anyway, I'm concerned because of the extremely great amount of work these kids are given. His English teacher told him that in seventh grade, these CHILDREN are supposed to have THREE HOURS of homework each night! He told me this, and I couldn't believe it. When I heard that, I started adding up all of the ''requirements'' for a child his age, and realized that if he met all of them, he would have about fifteen minutes of free time each (week)day. He is ''young'' for his age, and still loves playing with his models and toys and his brothers; he still needs time to play.

He does not do quite three hours of homework (I would be shocked if that really happened every night), but it's usually 1.5-2+ hours a day, and the stress of it is really seeming to get to him. I know that middle school is a rough transition, but he started middle school last year with very few problems.

Is anyone else experiancing this? Is this normal? It seems to be taking a toll on him; he comes right home from six hours of school, sit down, does a few hours of homework, and it's almost time for dinner, so he's really tense. If anyone tries to talk to him when he does his homework, he snaps at them, or even yells, only to feel remorseful later. I suggested taking a break before homework, but he insists--and he's probably right--that if he does, he won't be able to finish it. He does get some energy out--after dinner, he and his brothers go and play in our backyard for an hour, but he still seems more aggresive and tense than he's ever been. Is there anything I can do? I don't want to lose the sweet, loving son I know to middle school. Please give me some advice; my wife and I are at a tal loss.

Middle school homework can be way out of proportion to the developmental needs of our children. Some kids seem to ride the pressure more easily than others. I have had two kids go through middle school. The first one did well with a lot of parent involvement and teacher conferences to keep up with assignments. The second one has much less interest in pleasing teachers and is satisfied with Cs. As parents, we take the attitude that top grades are not that important in middle school.Enjoying the process of learning and having time for play and social life are equally important at this stage. The kids are learning how to juggle teacher expectations more independently and to talk to their teachers when they have a problem. In our family,we expect our middle school kid to do his best and we get involved to help him out and keep in touch with his teachers by email and phone if he falls behind. Most teachers are very responsive to parental concerns Re: kid stress and will modify due dates if they see the kid is really trying. Our kids do sports after school and are often exhausted by 9:00 pm without having finished homework. They do it the next day early in the morning or turn it in late. A good night's sleep and family time are much more important at age 12-14 than an A on HW assignments. Talk to your son's teachers and explain the situation. You can work something out together to make your kid's school experience more balanced. Our job as parents is to advocate for the health and wellbeing of our children in and out of school. Put the homework concern out on a school etree, on the PTA agenda and hash it over with the other parents and teachers of 7th graders. 1 and 1/2 hours is plenty for 7th grade, maybe 2 on occasion, but not on a regular basis. Good luck,

I definitely share your concern about middle schoolers feeling too much homework pressure. I was shocked when my 11 year old entered 6th grade at Lincoln Middle School (in Alameda) and had several hours of homework nightly. Her core teacher says that homework should average 20 minutes per class per day, so that comes to about 2 hours. I think that's too much homework for a child that age, a child who wants and deserves lots of time to hang out in her tree house, do crafts projects, play with her pets, and generally be a kid. My repeated and clear message to my daughter is that the most important thing for her is to give attention to not just homework/grades, but also other important areas of life such as music, sports, church, and last but certainly not least family and friends time. When she recently brought home all As I told her that was great but it did make me wonder if she had ''enough balance'' in her life. She knew I was partly kidding about giving her a hard time about making As, but she needs to hear someone articulate a different message from what I believe is overemphasis on homework and preparing for the standardized tests on which teachers and principals are increasingly pressured to have their students score well.
a pro-childhood mom

Hi William,
I read your post about your son's HW and have some ideas. First, I teach middle school, not at King, but 6th grade at a charter school. At the beginning of the year, I had complaints from some parents that I gave too much HW. I have struggled with this and believe I have reached a compromise. The first thing you should do if you haven't already is speak w/ your child's teacher. Ask her/him how much time she/he thinks the HW should take and tell him/her how much time your child spends on HW. Ask whether that is a reasonable amount of time or is your child spending too much time on HW. Also, your child might have some anxiety about how he's doing. Sounds like he's a really conscientious student. Setting up boundaries at home might help; like have a snack and 15 min. of loafing time when he first gets home before starting his HW. Also, check what the assignments are and when they're due. Is your son freaked out about getting stuff done that he has a week or so to complete. How about setting up a schedule so if he's working on a big project, set aside 15-20 daily to work on that. I definitely don't think he should spend 3 hrs per night on HW but 1-1/2 is not unreasonable. His anxiety might be about other issues. Please start by speaking w/ the teacher. Best of luck to you. It sounds like your son is really thoughtful and probably a student any teacher would be lucky to have. Susan S

I also have a 7th grader at King and have not experienced anything like what was described (3 hours of homework/night). I urge concerned parents to raise such issues with the principal or VP. The VP names and email addresses can be found on the King PTA website, http://king.berkeleypta.org/admin.html. Also, try posting to the un-moderated King Discussion group. Check it out and subscribe at King_Discussion-subscribe[at]yahoogroups.com.

I agree that our children don't need to be in school all day and then work on homework most of their evenings. Beacon School (a private school from pre-school through Middle School in Oakland) has a very positive approach towards homework. The founder, Thelma Farley, believes that in the early grades all work should be done in school. She encourages families to spend time together and not be driven by busy work. In Middle School the homework is reasonable. It often focuses on projects. My son is graduating from there this year and has had an incredibly positive school experience. Sara