My daughter is only eleven, but I’m afraid I’ve ruined her chance of getting into college because she is so far behind in math. We’ve tried tutors, but she still has trouble, and standardized testing puts her three years below grade level. She was a late reader, too, so maybe school just isn’t her thing. What else can I do?
Standardized tests are not placement tests. They cannot tell you at what level your daughter should be studying. They aren’t designed that way. The “placement” they give is vague and general, not indicative of her grade level but rather a way of comparing her performance on that particular test with the performance of other students.
There can be many different reasons for a low score. I’ve listed a few of them in my post In Honor of the Standardized Testing Season.
Consider Learning Difficulties
It’s possible your daughter has a learning disability or vision or hearing problems that interfere with her schoolwork, since she was a late reader, too. You might want to look into testing for that.
Some issues can be fixed with therapy or glasses, while others may require a different approach to math that accommodates the way her brain works.
- Read up on dyscalculia, a mental glitch that makes it difficult to learn math.
- Here’s an article that lists several Signs of Dyscalculia at Home and in School for children of different ages.
You Have Plenty of Time
But if those are not an issue, then don’t give up. Middle school is a perfect time to catch up on math.
For an encouraging example of how fast a student can progress, read the Helping a Struggling Math Student articles at Angelicscalliwags — probably my favoritest blog post series ever!
It’s a somewhat long but fascinating story. Scroll down to the bottom, so you can read in order. Pay attention to how they started each topic at a simple level to fill in the missing concepts and then increased the difficulty as the girl caught on, so she ended up working problems at her grade level.
As for your daughter, my main concern at this point would be her attitude. Does she feel like she’s stupid at math?
- Look at the resources from YouCubed for research-based ways to approach math that can help a discouraged student feel empowered to learn.
- Study together through the lessons in Jo Boaler’s free Stanford Online course How to Learn Math: For Students.
Learn to Do Buddy Math
Here’s one small change that can make a huge difference: never expect your daughter to do math alone.
Brave the daily fight together.
Real education, the kind of learning that sticks for a lifetime, comes through relationships. Most children learn more from the give-and-take of simple conversation with an adult than from even the best workbook or teaching video.
Turn math homework into a discussion time. Talk about how she might decide what to try first as she works on a problem, or how she could figure out a math fact that slipped from her memory. Talk about your own struggles, where you tend to get confused, and how you persevere, trying different approaches as you muddle through to an answer.
- Learn how to work together through any math curriculum with Buddy Math.
Worrying Only Adds to the Stress
Don’t worry too much about grade level. If your daughter is learning and making progress, then she’s doing fine.
No two children grow at the same rate, physically or academically. There will be some topics that seem easy to her and some that go slower.
But take whatever pace fits her learning level, make sure her understanding is firm, and don’t worry about being behind an arbitrary number.
This post is an excerpt from my book Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together—and Enjoy It, as are many of the articles in my Let’s Play Math FAQ series.