This year, for the spring semester, I was assigned to teach AIS for the first time. AIS (Academic Intervention Services) is a State mandated course that each school must offer for students who have either received poor scores or are predicted to receive poor scores on their State exams. I went into the class thinking “this will be difficult but I have the tools to help these students and together we will get them through this test!” Now, 15 weeks later, I’m pretty depressed.
I did a bunch of research to see how other school districts approached AIS courses. Many of them just required the students to use a computer program such as NovaNET to work at their own pace to review the course material. My district uses this program primarily for credit recovery although it has been used for some AIS courses. My colleagues who taught AIS prior to me weren’t crazy about the program so I didn’t even explore using it. I, somewhat haughtily thought, I can do better than any program! I will reach these students where no one else has!
The first issue that I encountered is that there was a mix of students who needed to pass the Global and the US regents exams. Basically, since I planned to work directly with the students I had to teach two lessons at the same time. Desk work for the US kids while I instructed the Global students on outlining an essay on imperialism and the like. I proceeded like this for two weeks or so and then gave the students a practice test on the material and types of questions that we had covered together. Their test scores did not change from their base levels.
I thought that I should mix things up and play review games with the students. Then I had them work just on skills relating to multiple choice questions (the biggest reason why the students fail the exam). Afterwards, I took them to the computer lab and we went on Regents Prep.com and even used Castle Learning. We worked together as a class, one on one, subject specific, you name it. I gave them more and more practice tests. What were the results? Some students had gained a point or two, several had lost ground, most stayed the same.
I was demoralized. I had never experienced anything like this before. My US History students, for the most part do as I ask, put in the extra effort, and do what they need to do to pass the test. These students complained every day. I had to fight them constantly about talking, taking out their cell phones, or completing the work that I assigned. When I had started planning for the course and other people who had taught it before said that I shouldn’t invest too much time in preparation because there was no hope for these students, I scoffed at them in my head. They didn’t care as much as I did or work as hard as I would work.
I have exactly 13 class periods left with these students. Despite my depression, I haven’t given up all hope. I do think that the system is working against me and my students. Students shouldn’t be enrolled in a class like this after they have already failed. Some of my students aren’t trying because they don’t see the point in it. Some of my students have bigger things to worry about then passing a social studies test; it’s just not on their radar. Some of them haven’t been asked to do the work necessary to be successful before and as a result are fighting back by being not exerting any effort.
I keep thinking, if only I’d had these students for the entire school year, maybe then they’d have a chance. Maybe I need to accept that I can only be accountable for myself and not the system. Maybe they’ll just wait until the exam to surprise me and make all of this worry worthwhile.