Sunday, October 5, 2014

What does 58% on a Math Test Mean to a Third Grade Student?

This week my third grade son brought home his first math test and there was a glaring 58% written in red ink with a large circle around it.  So many thoughts ran through my head as I tried to hide any reaction from my son.  There were also many frustrations welling inside me, but I wanted to turn this into a positive learning experience for my son, not a punishment or rag session.

I want to begin by saying that Tater's teacher is wonderful.  The red inked 58% was a result of the influence of her third grade team, and the fact that most teachers have no idea of the implications putting a meaningless grade on a paper has.

My first thought was WTF this is third grade...  My next thought was - who is this grade for?  My son has no idea what 58% means or the fact that he got 14.5 points out of 25.  It is all meaningless to him and for all he knows it is over and done.  That grade was meant for me, his parent.  I was supposed to get upset, take away television and electronics as a punishment for not achieving a higher score/grade.  The learning opportunity was done for both teacher and student.  Luckily for my son, the learning was far from done.

We sat down at the kitchen island and went through every question on the test.  I calmly told Tater that we needed to find the parts that were easy for him and the parts that were difficult.  I made sure to make it a positive interaction because I wanted to understand exactly where his struggles were without making him feel stupid.

As a huge proponent of Standards Based Grading I looked at evaluating his test using different criteria than assigning points to problems.

The test had the following areas of emphasis:
Even and Odd Sums, Commutative Property, Rounding, Addition of 3 digit numbers, Subtracting using Regrouping

This is what Tater and I discovered when going over his test:

  • He understands when a sum of 2 numbers will be even or odd
  • He understands commutative property
  • He can add three digit numbers 
  • He can round numbers to tens, hundreds, thousands
  • He struggles with subtraction with regrouping
  • His struggles with reading contributed to his low score
If I were his teacher, these are the notations I would have made.  Instead his teacher has a 58% in her grade book.  She has not noted that he needs help with subtraction, reading the problems, and explaining his thinking.  

Here in-lies the problem: Once the grade was given both she and Tater were done.  Instead of this assessment becoming a conversation for further learning and growth, it is an end point for both teacher and student and that is a tragedy.

As Tater and I worked through the problems he realized how he mis-read or skipped over important information.  We also established some strategies for him to be more careful when reading and solving problems.  We even developed a strategy to help him explain his answers and problem solving processes.  

I have not asked his teacher for a re-do, but I will be doing that soon.  I will also use this experience to find ways to move the teachers in my district towards standards based grading.

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