Last week we took a chapter test on multiplying fractions. YeeHa.

Most of the kids did pretty well. They understand the idea of fractions being numbers that are between 0 and 1. They can change mixed numbers into improper fractions and back again, add and subtract fractions, compare them and put them in order.

A few of the kids are struggling with serious learning disabilities. They took a modified test.

And a few kids who generally do well on these tests…..well, they failed.

So I had to decide what to do.

See, I give the unit tests because I have to. In this day and age, we have to have “data” to show that the kids are learning. So, OK, even though I know my kids very well and watch them do math every day, I give the test. Even though I correct their homework every day and go over it with them and have conferences with the kids who need more explanation, I give them the test.

To be clear: the test scores show me absolutely nothing. I already know which kids fully understand the concepts, which kids aren’t yet ready to master the concepts and which kids just need some more time and a little more practice before they master the concepts. The test scores reflect what I already know about 95% of the time. Big whoop.

This time was only a little bit different. I looked at the four tests showing failing scores. One of the kids is on the autistic spectrum. He is very, very bright, and he understands the math concepts very well. He just can’t solve the problems in the proscribed “Common Core” manner. He sometimes struggles with problems that ask us to explain our reasoning. I went over his test with him, giving hime some little prompts and reminders. He raised his score to a 90, but he didn’t really care either way. He thinks these things are stupid.

Another child is diagnosed with PTSD and severe depression. He is successful academically when I am beside him, when I can provide that gentle, “m’hm” as he works. We joke that I have “magical math dust” and that he breathes it in when we are side by side. The truth is that he panics when he feels that he might fail. His failing test score was ridiculous. With me beside him, he independently fixed every single mistake. I gave him a hug and a “high five”, saying, “You SEE what a great mathematician you are?!”

The final two failing scores belonged to girls who just need a little more time, a few more days to practice. They belong to girls who have identified themselves as “bad at math.” I have worked long and hard with both of them this year, encouraging them to guess, to try, to challenge themselves, to ask questions. Both have improved tremendously, and both have begun to ask for extra math conferencing with me and with the math specialist. Both have begun to choose the “challenge math” for homework.

I sat with the two of them and asked them to review their tests. One identified problems that were still confusing to her. I walked her through the solutions, talking over each step. I gave her similar problems to try on her own, and she was partly successful. As I already knew, this child needs more time. Its ridiculous to think that we can race through these complex ideas and expect everyone to have full mastery. By the end of our half our test review, this girl’s confidence was back, and she seemed to believe me when I told her “I KNOW that you will get this math. I know you will.”

And then there is the last test. This girl had been out sick, and had missed two days of lessons. I had gone over the ideas with her, and had let her practice a bit. I thought she needed more time with the work, but she wanted to take the test with the rest of the class, so I let her.

She failed. We looked at her paper, and found that nearly all of her mistakes were simple ones. She seemed to understand everything, solving the problems correctly, but neglecting to simplify, or missing the sign. I pointed this out to her, saying, “See, I’m not worried! You’re a good mathematician.” She shook her head, her eyes filled with tears. “But I’m so sad,” she said. “I made such stupid mistakes.” I put my arm around her and took the test out of her hand. “Listen to me, ” I said firmly. “You made mistakes that you know how to fix. That’s a good thing.” I gave her the test and let her work. She corrected every little error and I happily showed her the 100% written in bright red at the top.

It took a lot of time. It cost me my lunch and part of my planning block. It took all of my patience. The test itself was a waste of all of our time because it taught me nothing. The test review, though, was enormously valuable because I was able to use to show four great kids that they are successful, smart kids and that I have confidence in all of them.

Evaluate that.

Posted by zorbear on March 29, 2014 at 9:17 pm

The sad thing is, those darlings wouldn’t have needed all that time for restoring their confidence, had the improperly designed tests not destroyed it to begin with. But the happy thing is, they have you to repair the damage the system causes.

Look at their faces and rejoice that you were there…

Posted by momshieb on March 30, 2014 at 7:51 am

It was so hard not to just be frustrated with the system, but I’m lucky that I was able to have those conversations. One part of the whole thing is that at this point in the year I have had enough time with them to be able to focus on one child at a time and know that the rest will be able to stay quiet; you can’t do that in the fall!

Posted by Embattled Farmers on March 29, 2014 at 11:26 pm

But how many teachers would take the time to go over the test with each child? Most kids would just get their failing grade, no help, and no positive reinforcement.

I assume I’m welcome here even though I don’t teach?!

Posted by momshieb on March 30, 2014 at 7:55 am

Welcome aboard, of course you are!!!!

The thing is, every teacher I know would take that time. Every single one. We just can’t always do it. And I had to weigh what teaching time would be lost; I have to cover tons of science and math before the state tests, so it was poetry reading/writing that was lost that day. For nothing.

Posted by Embattled Farmers on March 30, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I just think MA teachers are special, and it’s not the same all over the country. That Puritan work ethic…