Blogging Bayport Alameda

December 3, 2013

Under pressure

Filed under: Alameda, School — Lauren Do @ 6:03 am

NPR featured an Alameda High student in a piece on stress and high school kids.  Essentially what it said is that some kids these days are taking way to many classes and therefore getting way too much homework and that is leading to medical problems due to stress.

The transcript is a better reflection of what was in the radio piece, highlights:

NEIGHMOND: In our poll, one-in-four parents say their teen is stressed by the amount of homework. Nora spends two to four hours a night on hers, leaving barely enough time for anything else. The pressure is taking a toll. She’s tired, easily irritated and suffers headaches.

Psychologist Mary Alvord, with the American Psychological Association, says a little stress is a good thing. It can motivate students to be organized. But too much can backfire.

NEIGHMOND: Alvord says parents should be on the lookout for changes in behavior – irritability, upset stomachs and headaches. If your child is very upset, she says, deep breathing and visualizing a peaceful scene like a beach helps calm the body and mind. And parents need to put a child’s distress in perspective, particularly what Alvord calls catastrophic what-if thinking.

ALVORD: If I get a bad grade then, you know, what if that means I’ll fail course; if I fail course then I’ll never get into college.

NEIGHMOND: Remind your child everybody isn’t good at everything. Then scrutinize their schedule. Consider cutting back on extracurriculars like sports, clubs, student council, and think about reducing the number of honors courses.

On the heels of this piece came a press release from the school district which reported that AUSD had been recognized with two other Bay Area school districts as being on the Advanced Placement honor roll.   This essentially means that AUSD offers and provides access to AP classes and actually allows students to take the classes.   From what I understand, this is not the norm at a lot of other schools where AP classes are restricted to who can actually get into the classes in the first place.  From the press release:

Since the 2010/11 school year, AUSD’s two traditional high schools have increased the total number of students taking AP courses from 682  to 993 and the number taking exams from 682 to 895.The total number of AP classes taken (one student can take more than one class) at the two campuses has risen from 1562 to 2018.

Broken down by ethnicity, the number of students taking AP classes at AHS and EHS since2010/2011 rose as follows:

  • Hispanic/Latino students: 69 to 136
  • Black/African American students:  75 to 76
  • Filipino/Filipino American students: 100 to 140
  • Asian Asian/American students: 760 to 1094

This is pretty good news, but compared against the NPR piece I wonder if the open access isn’t unnecessarily adding too much stress on high school students these days.   I know when I was in high school there were not that many AP courses offered in general, let alone in my school, kids these days are taking on these massive loads of school work in order to get into college and you’re starting to see kids with these health problems that should not exist in kids this young.

I mean, I’m not really sure what the solution is because I know when it comes time for my kids to get into high school I will expect them to be as competitive as the next kid in order to secure their college slots.  I mean, it’s all fine and dandy for some psychologist to say to cut back on schedules and cut back on extra curricular activities, but the competition for college is fierce out there and it’s not going to lessen any time soon.  As long as other kids are applying to school with a full complement of grades, test scores, and activities it will be hard for any kid who has a dream college to cut back on their schedule.

In other school related news over the weekend I heard that the Junior Jets program at Encinal is offering to their students the ability to take any elective join any club — age appropriate elective club– at Encinal if they so desire.  Which makes the Junior Jets program very unique.  What was really exciting was to hear that also offered is a Girls Who Code club which is open to the Junior Jets (and Encinal students as well).   Girls Who Code is a national movement to get more females into the tech industry which — despite the high profile females like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg — is largely male dominated.   Getting girls interested in coding at the Junior High and High School level makes perfect sense.



  1. Just wanted to point out that the AP District Honor Roll doesn’t just recognize districts that have increased participation in AP courses (and a high percentage of passing scores on the AP exams). It specifically recognizes districts in which an increased number of students from racial minority groups are now taking these advanced classes. According to the College Board’s own press release, the districts named to the AP District Honor Roll “are committed to expanding the availability of AP courses among prepared and motivated students of all backgrounds.”

    AUSD is the only district in the immediate Bay Area to receive this honor; the other two are Fremont and Tracy (which I think count as “greater” Bay Area.)

    Comment by Susan Davis (senior manager, community affairs, AUSD) — December 3, 2013 @ 11:52 am

  2. Tracy is not Bay Area, agreed. However, saying Fremont “in the immediate Bay Area” would probably surprise people from there sine if they walked west across their city limits they would immediately be drowning(or dying of hypothermia or suffocating in the mud) in the San Francisco Bay.

    Comment by BMac — December 3, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

  3. #2 — Point taken!

    Comment by Susan Davis (senior manager, community affairs, AUSD) — December 3, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

  4. Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case.

    Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

    Kelly McGonigal translates academic research into practical strategies for health, happiness and personal success.

    Comment by Interesting Take — December 3, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

  5. AP is sort of the level at which we should be teaching anyway, right? But the other side of the coin is that this “option” is a mixed bag for kids who take AP because of competitive pressures, when they aren’t prepared or equipped, and end up doing poorly. Bad for their GPA and their ego. Obviously, the previous selection system is potentially elitist, so this system seems more egalitarian and fairer, but we are also feeding the AP rat race.

    I think it would be interesting to get real feedback from AP teachers about how it’s been going, though there is a political element which might curb some from being completely candid, just speculating.

    A comparison of GPA for AP classes before and after this policy would tell a story. Note that previously, all AP kids took the exam ( 682 of 682), while now we see about 100 of the total taking AP didn’t take the exam. Of the 442 additional AP students above, that difference is almost 25%. That says something right there. Then there would be a comparison of scores on the exam, before and after this new policy. As for increased participation by minorities who are often statistically lower performing, or considered “at risk”, the number of African American students increased by 1 and total for other non-Asians is 107. Increase of Asian kids was 334. That is maybe proportionate to their numbers in the district over all?

    ***If total increase in AP students is 311 and increase of the four minorities listed was 441, is it correct to deduce there was a decline in other groups (i.e. Caucasians)? No idea how to interpret that.

    Comment by MI — December 3, 2013 @ 7:53 pm

  6. 4. what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, eh? I guess kids who commit suicide because of bullying simply have an inferior knowledge of how to handle stress. I think what the speaker is referring to is what many call “learning to cope”, but that doesn’t translate directly to “stress is good for you”. Nice to know it doesn’t have to shave years off our lives, but how would you teach the ability to parse this conundrum to young people? One might infer your point to be that we should all be dragon parents and our kids should just learn to suck it up and deal with it, cause it will make them stronger, better? No room for coddling! No cream puffs! Perhaps you think that deviating from that path is why this country lags academically. School should not just be about learning three Rs, it should also boot camp. I viewed a few minutes of TED but lost interest in her take. Does the learned professor get to how this applies to kids and young adults or not?

    Comment by MI — December 3, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

  7. Avoid stress by not taking AP classes. Cruise through the regular classes, then have to take remedial courses in college like up to 35% of the “regular” graduates who enroll in 2 year and 4 year colleges in California. This will cost you money and time to learn what you could have learned in high school. .

    The flight to AP classes is because the perception students have is that regular classes do not always prepare them for college. The “decline” in taking the AP exams is because courts held that Districts could not require students to pay the $90 exam fees, and would have to pay the $90 fee per exam for each student If they did (it is a free and public education). So now students take the AP course to get the grade bump, but don’t take the national AP exam because they can’t be bothered to study for it, or perhaps have not been well prepared by their course. This is ironic, because if a student qualifies for a free/reduced lunch, the cost of taking the exam to the student is only $5 with the District paying the difference.

    Success in AP is about preparation, reading level, work ethic, and drive. Stress occurs when you don’t have a few of those attributes and can’t develop them or be taught them quickly enough. Studies show most students don’t catch up if they do not read at grade level by 4th grade. The College Board has recognized that the “best” time to prepare students for AP is in middle school. Waiting until high school is too late – hence an explosion of higher level courses in middle schools across the country. The EHS Junior Jet program is a local example.

    Comment by commonsense — December 3, 2013 @ 9:03 pm

  8. Access to AP reflects positive changes AUSD has made recently. When my two children were at AHS, there were two EXP or AP classes per subject only. I am glad that they have opened up access so that all who want to take the classes are able to sign up. As far as taking the exam itself, it is expensive- $85 each in 2008-9. AUSD needs to make sure that bright but economically challenged students are aware of fee waivers that might be available.

    Comment by Kevis Brownson — December 3, 2013 @ 11:24 pm

  9. AUSD High Schools Results in 2013

    % (of Students Who Scored at Each) Performance Level

    California uses five performance levels to report student achievement on the CSTs:

    Advanced: This level represents a superior performance. Students demonstrate a comprehensive and complex understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.

    Proficient: This level represents a solid performance. Students demonstrate a competent and adequate understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.

    Basic: This level represents a limited performance. Students demonstrate a partial and rudimentary understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.

    Far below / below basic: This level represents a serious lack of performance. Students demonstrate little or a flawed understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.
    CST algebra 1 for High School

    9Th 10th 11th Grades

    278 – Total Tested

    11 – Scored Advanced or 4%

    59 – Scored Proficient or 21%

    208 – Scored Rudimentary or Partial understanding or Lower or 75%


    CST Geometry for High School

    9Th 10th 11th Grades

    548 – Total Tested

    13 – Scored Advanced or 2%

    91 -Scored Proficient or 17%

    444 – Scored Rudimentary or Partial understanding or Lower or 81%


    CST Algebra II High School

    9Th 10th 11th Grades

    575 – Total Tested

    65 – Scored Advanced or 11%

    145 – Scored Proficient or 25%

    365 – Scored Rudimentary or Partial understanding or Lower or 64%


    CST Life Science High School

    731 – Total Tested

    263 – Scored Advanced or 36%

    204 – Scored Proficient or 28%

    264 – Scored Rudimentary or Partial understanding or Lower or 36%


    CST Biology High School

    749 – Total Tested

    231 – Scored Advanced or 31%

    209 – Scored Proficient or 28%

    309 – Scored Rudimentary or Partial understanding or Lower or 41%

    CST Chemistry High School

    625 – Total Tested

    75 – Scored Advanced or 12%

    175 – Scored Proficient or 28%

    375 – Scored Rudimentary or Partial understanding or Lower or 60%

    Comment by Whats not to Celebrate — December 4, 2013 @ 2:14 am

  10. Interesting that John changes the evaluation system to read “rudimentary” as opposed to the actual language which is “basic.” The lumping of the last three categories is also interesting in order to pump up the percentage to show that either (1) kids are really stupid these days or (2) teachers really suck these days. Maybe it’s that kids aren’t doing enough work or not watching enough Khan Academy videos after their full load of school, homework, and extra curricular activities. If you combine the totals for “Advanced” and “Proficient” in most categories.

    Also way to cherry pick some numbers. For example Algebra I, which should be completed in Middle School not High School. The bulk of students successfully demonstrating mastery happens by the end of Middle School, if there are students not completed that means that they are already struggling with the subject. Also, you can’t just take the three percentages and get the average, that’s why there’s an “EOC” column to mark “End of Course.” Your “facts” are meaningless when you subjectively alter them to suit whatever your purpose is.

    Comment by Lauren Do — December 4, 2013 @ 5:58 am

  11. Basic …………Students demonstrate a PARTIAL and RUDIMENTARY understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.


    crude, low, rude, primitive


    existing only in part; incomplete.
    “a question to which we have only partial answers”
    synonyms: incomplete, limited, qualified, imperfect, fragmentary, unfinished

    The Article was addressing High School Kids and then we find our from # 1 about the Honor Roll Award We Received for increased participation in AP courses High School.

    So that is why the numbers on High School Performance.

    These are the Test Scores…….I know they are meaningless…….Whats important is were on the Honor Roll..

    Comment by Whats important is were on the Honor Roll — December 4, 2013 @ 7:53 am

  12. We have some Fabulous Teachers……They are Fighting a Uphill Battle by inheriting Students who do not have a grasp on the Subject and are in a No Win Situation.. If a Student does not get Algebra 1 and Geometry how can we expect them to Grasp Algebra 2.

    The System is suspect and its ok to Fail. Just Fix it.

    Just admit your Failure and do not blow smoke up students and parents keister telling how wonderful we are. We have alot of Work to do to fix this.

    Looking at The Federal Accountability Standard Requires Schools to Meet Adequate Yearly Progress.
    Encinal High Missed The Federal Adequate Yearly Progress — So they Failed under Federal Standards in 2012

    Alameda High School Missed The Federal Adequate Yearly Progress—So they Failed under Federal Standards in 2012

    But we Won The Honor Roll award.

    Comment by Whats important is were on the Honor Roll — December 4, 2013 @ 8:27 am

  13. #12: That is true — neither EHS nor AHS made the mandated AYP. But context is important when looking at these numbers. Across California, only 27% of all high schools made AYP in 2012, down from 56% in 2005. This raises questions about the reasonableness of the AYP targets (which rise every year).

    Another interesting detail: Schools are labeled as not making AYP if even just one criteria (of what can be up to 50) is not met.

    Comment by Susan Davis (senior manager, community affairs, AUSD) — December 4, 2013 @ 9:02 am

  14. For this discussion, I am ONLY interested in comparative test scores and GPA for AP classes before this policy and after, not John’s usual avalanche of diversion about how shitty our students do on tests.

    Previously teachers had to vet applicants for their class and at some point pick and chose who would get in, which was not pleasant and often not fair to kids on the cusp. However, the percentage of kids in those classes who were getting As in the previous system was much higher ( I can’t cite specific stats, but I’m entirely certain of this). It’s also a drag for a teacher to have to hand out failing grades under the new system, but contrary to everything John tries to imply, social promotions are not happening, particularly in AP.

    7. your post seems to be made with some authority, i.e. certainty about it’s accuracy. You wrote: “The flight to AP classes is because the perception students have is that regular classes do not always prepare them for college.” Can you substantiate that as fact or is that your perception? I must take issue wit that. My impression is that kids want into AP because they feel they need them to be competitive on college applications, but not so much that non AP classes would not prepare them for college. My wife taught regular old 10th grade modern world history at Alameda High for a dozen years and worked closely on content with the teacher who taught AP in same subject. That teacher taught not only AP, but did teach all the AP classes in that subject. Of the classroom content and homework in regular old history class, more than a few students complained “If I had wanted to take an AP class, I would have applied to be in AP!”. Implication being the class as taught was too rigorous.

    I am also missing the logic of sentence about “decline”. I would understand decline being linked directly to students having to pay fees themselves, but you seem to say courts mandated that districts can’t force them to do that. The stats Lauren posted show that under old system where all AP students were vetted by teachers, 100% took the exam. There is only a decline in numbers taking the exam under the new open enrollment system and I am tempted to conclude that it is because kids who take the AP classes for competitive advantage, but realize they are not well prepared, would see no reason to take the test. Unlikely a kid would get a C in an AP class and test at 3 or above on exam.

    Comment by MI — December 5, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

  15. I have a wealth of anecdotal information from our two boys who are completely different in their interests and how they learn, but because of their privacy I can’t really share a lot of it. I will say that one child was aspiring to an AP class not just because of possible college app advantage but because of the teacher. He passed the class but didn’t do well on the exam, but there is no penalty for that, other than feeling demoralized. We knew from 2nd grade that he simply does not fair well as a test taker even though he does well in the classroom. We have encouraged him to keep applying himself and not to get freaked out about testing. I am a ponderous reader and have also never tested particularly well because of that. The time limited test environment is also inherently stressful. One has to actually practice how to take a test so that one doesn’t hurry too much, but also doesn’t spend too much time if correct answers don’t come immediately. This really has nothing to do with how well one understands the material. It’s unfortunate that there is SO MUCH emphasis on tests as a measure of ability and comprehension of subject matter. It is sort of a one size fits all approach, if a necessary evil of sorts. All my negative emotions about my education are most deeply rooted in filling in those rows of little bubbles with a number two pencil. “Pencils down!”

    Comment by MI — December 5, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

  16. #13

    We have lost our long term objective which is to educate and have students learn.

    The AUSD Districts Policy seems to be punishing and pushing students to next levels without the students getting real knowledge and learning. The Test Scores reveal this if you really examine.

    Maybe a better system is you keep redoing the level til the student is happy with their performance and tests. It turns out that kids actually learn better this way. In fact there is a lot of Scientific Research from the past couple of years showing that we Learn More by taking Tests then we do by studying because the Tests make us examine what we don’t know and see what our performance really is, so not only does it help us learn more, but also takes the punishment out of School. It will also probably reduce the emotional stress and pressure being put on students for failing and knowing they are moving up without really learning.

    Posting Honor Roll Status and excuses that only 27% of California Schools passed in a State that Ranks 48th or 49th out of 50 in Student Performance just delays the District from addressing the Real issues of our Failure to have students learn and not focusing on the problem and coming up with real solutions.

    It does everyone a great disservice.

    Comment by Whats important is were on the Honor Roll — December 8, 2013 @ 4:39 am

  17. 17 great fiction. Does capitalizing Scientific Research somehow make it authoritative? give us the link to the source on that one so we can see how you’ve distorted somebody elses real point to serve your own fantasy of what our schools are or are not doing. Your first sentence might be right on target if you didn’t then claim we need the tests. The constant focus on tests and teaching to prepare for them would be what might actually validate your first statement. And tell us again your first hand experience with kids in AUSD system. Having had a child take PSAT, then get tutored and then take SAT, get tutored and retake SAT I have a pretty good idea what tests teach, which is largely how to take a test. The change in outcome has no deep reflection of the comprehension and understanding of material from the classroom, nor in my opinion, any deep reflection of the quality of teaching in said classroom. As far as SATs the improvement may reflect how good the tutor is, when parents have the money. FYI- the tutors spend more time teaching kids how to take the test successfully than reviewing actual content. Like teaching a rat how to navigate a maze in record time.

    Comment by MI — December 8, 2013 @ 9:47 am

  18. Yes, AUSD has increased AP courses but has lost numerous classes: auto shop,wood shop, culinary arts, fashion design, game design, to name a few. Electives that prepare our students for career have disappeared due to the district’s AP push.

    Comment by dmkenney — December 10, 2013 @ 7:29 am

  19. 18.if both have happened in the same period, I’m having a hard time believing one is because of the other. Classes like art and music have been on the block for a long time because of budget. As far as I know, more AP simply means reassigning teachers in a department to teach more AP, not new hiring.I’m somewhat cynical about AP and share your dismay at the loss of these other courses, but I’m not sure one was cut to accommodate expanding the other.

    Comment by MI — December 10, 2013 @ 7:43 am

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