To push or not re: math exam?

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-23-2002
To push or not re: math exam?
13
Sat, 06-08-2013 - 7:12pm

A bit of back-story for those who don't know the background,

Youngest dd, a homeschooler, worked through the local school district's Grade 8 math curriculum this past winter. Most of it was review, but there was some new material, and some review that needed doing. She finished the course easily in about 4 and a half months. 

Most of the time she thinks she would like to do math at school next fall, and this is something that is certainly theoretically possible in our district. Since the Grade 8 was already mostly review this year, the appropriate level would be Grade 9. It wouldn't be a high stakes course that would end up on her high school diploma / transcript: those start in Grade 10 here. So if she decided the pace was too fast, or the format ill-suited to her needs, she'd be free to bail part way through. Taking the course at school would entail a blend of seminars and self-directed work. What she would like is to feel like she's at least loosely part of a community of fellow learners at her level, and the structure and accountability of an externally-adminstered course.

Ninth grade math would represent a radically accelerated placement as she'll only be 5th grade by age next fall. We have a pretty open-minded school, but we still, I think, will need to make a clear case for them accepting her. She's been part of the 7th/8th grade intro to Spanish course this semester and has fit in very well with the other students. The math teacher (who is also the Spanish teacher, and the homeschool liaison ... yeah, it's a very small school) likes her and would I think support her 9th grade placement. But there will be a new principal -- a complete unknown -- and a new district superintendant (ditto). So I feel like it's in her best interest to make a strong case for her inclusion now, on fairly schoolish terms, and maybe even get her on the class roster before the summer break. Then it'll be more of a done deal and the principal will be less likely to question it.

With that in mind, we had planned to have her write the Grade 8 math final exam with the current class of kids. It's next week. She's about two thirds of the way through doing the unit-by-unit practice tests and she's starting to lose heart. We normally only do math two or three times a week, and she's having to spend 30-45 minutes most days. Not only that, but she doesn't have years of experience writing tests, and she's tending to make sloppy errors which I'm pointing out to her because at her request I'm grading her tests. She'll not notice part c of a question and skip it by a mistake, or not write out formulae first, or put extra equals-signs in at the beginning of algebraic equations, or round off to the wrong number of digits. Her solutions are almost always correct. Probably 98% of the time. But she would be marked down considerably for the little procedural things and the "not carefully reading the question" stuff and she doesn't like that at all. For the first time perfectionism is surfacing.

She's now saying she isn't sure whether she wants to write the exam. She's discouraged by the sloppy mistakes. I think right now it's easier for her to drop the dream of doing math at school than it is for her to find the motivation for attention to detail, because the attention to detail stuff is a current issue, whereas math at school is in the future, months from now.

I'd love to say "we arranged this with the math teacher at your request, and she's made an exception to include you, so you need to follow through." But it's not true: the Grade 8 math teacher is a family friend and unschooling parent who would be totally cool with anything. And dd knows that.

So if she needs a push, it's going to have to come from me. 

I'm pretty sure that if she finishes the review tests she'll do fine on the exam. I think even just a passing grade would still serve our case well: it's her first-ever math test, and they'll know she didn't start the course until way after when the school kids did. So a pass is probably all that's really necessary, and she's likely to get a B even with a few sloppy errors.

How, and how much if at all, do you think I should push her to actually write the thing? 

Miranda

Miranda
in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

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iVillage Member
Registered: 04-27-2000
Sun, 06-09-2013 - 9:06am

I think she probably wants to write the test.  She just needs to get her confidence back so she's in a good place when she sits for it.  Any chance of breaking down the 30 minutes of daily prep into three 10 minute mini study sessions per day?  Doing just a few problems at a time may result in less fatigue and mistakes.  If you "graded" each of the sections just as she completed it, she'd likely only have one or two tiny mistakes at most in each section.  That way, she wouldn't feel overwhelmed because she "got six wrong" on the practice quiz.  I think you probably need to take the approach of not seeming to "push" her but just to offer to facilitate/assist and get her through what she decided to do.  "Let's just find a way to prepare that isn't so overwhelming and works better for you."   

 

 

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-27-2000
Sun, 06-09-2013 - 9:06am

I think she probably wants to write the test.  She just needs to get her confidence back so she's in a good place when she sits for it.  Any chance of breaking down the 30 minutes of daily prep into three 10 minute mini study sessions per day?  Doing just a few problems at a time may result in less fatigue and mistakes.  If you "graded" each of the sections just as she completed it, she'd likely only have one or two tiny mistakes at most in each section.  That way, she wouldn't feel overwhelmed because she "got six wrong" on the practice quiz.  I think you probably need to take the approach of not seeming to "push" her but just to offer to facilitate/assist and get her through what she decided to do.  "Let's just find a way to prepare that isn't so overwhelming and works better for you."   

 

 

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-18-2005
Mon, 06-10-2013 - 8:00am

FWIW, dc usually gets marked down about two grading levels for those "little procedural things".  Makes me crazy.  This is a kid who can readily do computations a couple of grade levels ahead, but who is dysgraphic and has AS.  He rarely understands what they want when they just say "explain your answer" or "show your work" on problems so simple for him that he does no conscious calculation.  It's like being asked "What's your name?  Show your work." to him.  And then sometimes equations are fine to show work, but other times only written sentences in English will do, or drawings of little coins, etc., and the instructions generally do not specify.  Or he'll write the answer as "5" instead of "5 apples", and get no credit for the numerically correct answer.

Gwen

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iVillage Member
Registered: 07-23-2002
Mon, 06-10-2013 - 11:13am

She actually does very well showing the steps to solving an equation. We've worked on that for years, and her algebra solutions are brilliant inverted pyramids stacked by their equals signs. We're struggling a bit in situations where an equation isn't presented as the starting point (say in 3D geometry or probability problems), because the first step she often writes down is the 3rd or 4th step. And yes, that business of "present your answer in the same format they present the question" is something she understands but often forgets to implement: leaves off the units, or forgets to write a concluding sentence. 

We're doing okay the past couple of days, I think. We started working on exponents in more depth as a "break" from the Grade 8 stuff, and that's like a treat which she really enjoys. I think she's accepting the idea that the exam is still Plan A. We'll see how she feels on Thursday evening.

Miranda

Miranda
in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

iVillage Member
Registered: 02-17-2004
Mon, 06-10-2013 - 8:01pm

It sounds like she has the math down well - it's the testing that's causing problems.  Can you categorize the types of questions then model what the steps and answers should look like?  Then pick a question style, practice it. Then another question style, practice it.  Etc.

Sometimes for DS, it helps his confidence to know he's got part of things correct and the pieces he needs work on are actually pieces a child his age would not be able to do.  Then we break it down as described above.  It also helps when I point out what he's done right.  The amount right is almost always overwhelmingly more than what he's done wrong.  What he's done wrong is typically consistent throughout the exercise (quiz, test, etc.)

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-23-2002
Mon, 06-10-2013 - 10:43pm

It's hard to break it down by types of questions because the course is fairly conceptual and wide-ranging, and the problems aren't necessarily formulaic.

Your suggestion that I remind her that the attention to detail is beyond what would normally be considered developmentally appropriate for a kid her age is a good one. She knows that her math skills are fine, it's her exam skills that are in their infancy, and that's no wonder -- she just turned 10 and has been entirely unschooled!

She wrote a Spanish final exam today (also a first) and felt pretty good about her performance on it, so that's helped.

miranda

Miranda
in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

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iVillage Member
Registered: 05-13-1998
Wed, 06-12-2013 - 11:58am

When I know it's only "fear of failure" holding back my kids from something they want, I will give a push. I tell them it's OK if they choose not to participate in whatever they are testing for (and they sometimes don't) but it's good to keep yourself eligible for the paths you are still considering a walk down. They are always happy and proud they followed through in the end.

She shouldn't be held back from a learning environment that attracts her because she isn't a skilled test taker yet. I'd at least have her finish the practice test before deciding against the real thing.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-23-2002
Thu, 06-13-2013 - 11:30am

Well, it turns out she was mostly uptight about writing it with the class. Intro to Spanish with the big kids was one thing ... a mixed-grade class of kids learning Spanish from scratch together. Waltzing into Math 8 on exam day, having never been seen there before, none of the kids having any clue she was working at that level, being so much younger, seemed really awkward to her. And then the business of actually writing comprehensive math exam under time pressure ... she's never done a math test at her level in her life and it seemed like a high-pressure way to start. (She did some low-stakes 4th grade standardized testing a couple of months ago but that was so far below her level that it felt completely trivial.) If she'd been writing little math tests from 1st grade on up in a group format, to be marked by a teacher, this exam wouldn't seem so weirdly new and high stakes. 

When the math teacher / family friend said "I could just make an extra copy of the test on Friday and your mom or Scott could give it to you on your own," she jumped at that opportunity. Scott is our homeschool liaison teacher, and she's going to write it in the homeschool classroom under his (casual) observation. She's totally cool with that.

We're still waiting to hear whether the 9th grade math teacher for next year is going to be the great teacher or the terrible one. Math 9 was apparently rather a disaster this year with the latter, who has been rarely assigned math classes due to having a similar track record. Fingers crossed for the good guy. 

Miranda

Miranda
in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-13-1999
Thu, 06-13-2013 - 9:20pm

I'm late reading this and I'm glad.  There was something about the testing that bothered me and I couldn't figure out exactly what.   Your dd expressed it for me.  I didn't like the idea of her having to go in and take a comprehensive math test--her very first one--with kids who had taken the class all year long, especially since she's just young enough to stand out.  I know this is a nice school with a range of ages represented in the class but it still felt like a bit of a set up for her and maybe created an artificially high stakes feel.  I really like the idea of her taking the test alone with the homeschool liaision teacher.   I think she'll do beautifully.  To clarify, I think she would have done beautifully in the other setting too, it just felt unnecessarily stressful.

Be sure she knows that the sloppy mistakes issue that you are describing is not uncommon among older students too, including the very brightest ones who do a lot of the work mentally. 

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-23-2002
Fri, 06-14-2013 - 7:04pm

So, she did the exam at home, and it turned out to be a really lucky thing for two reasons. 

First, it turned out to be a monster exam. This math teacher had never taught high school math before (she's a long-term sub for a teacher undergoing chemotherapy, and normally teaches elementary school plus high school art). By her own admission she made the exam way too long. Of the school students no one was close to done by the end of the exam block. She ended up giving everyone an extra hour to write, and then told them they were done, and she would just mark as far as they had completed, not taking marks off for incomplete work. Only one student actually finished. I think if my dd had seen that exam at the outset, knowing she only had two hours to finish, she would have freaked. 

Secondly, my dd wanted to talk all-the-freaking-way through working on the exam. "Look, I'm getting really good at square root signs." "Argh, I should probably show the other step." "Where's that stupid eraser?" "Weird order for the questions." "It should say you have to assume the kite string goes to the ground, 'cause they don't tell you how tall the guy is." "Look, this indent is wrong." "Oops, I did a, c, e, then b, d, f. Haha! It doesn't matter." "Hmpph, I hate when I do that." "Three marks for this question? Why?" "I'm gonna do this one on a separate sheet." "Oh look, my 8's are so awesomely pretty today!"

I left the living room for a while to see if it would shush her up but she called me back because it was too quiet without someone to talk towards, and she needed to talk to keep concentrating. Did she want music on? "No, too distracting. Just be here so I can talk." Funny kid. 

Because I'd been forwarned to give her lots of extra time, I had her do the first half last night and the rest today and just take as much time as she needed. All told it took about 3.5 hours, but she finished. I dropped it off for marking and just got an email from the homeschool teacher:

"I marked her Math and she scored 99%, 129/133 on the exam + 3/3 for the bonus question for 132/133.

"In Spanish she tied for the highest mark in the class with a 97%. Muy bien trabajo!!  

"I do find it strange to be assessing her against the grade 4 expectations. I'll talk to Terry regarding grade-skip logistics from the DL perspective but in my opinion she should be placed ahead to wherever she feels comfortable. She certainly has had no trouble mastering grade 8 subjects. We can discuss it further next week."

Dd is SO happy about her results. This is the first time she's sort of held herself up to external benchmarks. She worked diligently and organized her work well. She is also really happpy about the suggestion of a grade-skip. It won't mean anything much for next year, as she'll continue homeschooling, but if/when she decides to go to school, that would make it much easier to get appropriate challenge.

Miranda

Miranda
in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

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