Who's Failing Who?

It's painful to say, but my son flunked his last math assessment/quiz/test.  He barely passed the previous test (which was only a week prior).  I don't think I need to tell you that the past week has been a pretty rocky one in our home.  When he does poorly in a class, my son takes it VERY personally.  He doesn't see it as failing a class, he sees himself as a failure.  And that's a bigger problem than any math grade.

My son IS smart.  He doesn't believe that though.  He does well in school and works hard to do well.  While I don't think he will be the valedictorian of his graduating class (which is a long way down the road, so who really knows), he is your slightly above average B/B+ kind of student.  With the transition this school year from elementary to middle school he's had his struggles.  I'm proud to say that he's worked hard (and had help) to try and overcome them.

When he first started middle school, I let him fly on his own.  When I finally did peak in on that parent portal, I saw the problems he was having.  As a family we worked to help resolve some of them.  I got in touch with his teachers so that they were aware of the challenges we saw and so that we could all work together.  When math continued to be a difficult subject, we found a terrific tutor (thanks to the recommendation of a friend who also has a child that needed additional help).

Putting all the pieces together (family, teachers and tutor), my son started to do better and gain confidence. Math still remained a challenge. I still couldn't fathom half of the problems that he was given.  (What does that say of me? Clearly I would flunk 5th grade math.)  He worked hard on his own and with his tutor. As a result while his first marking period report card was good; his second marking period was even better.  But what was more important than the grades he got was his pride and confidence level.  He was proud of the work he had done.  With more confidence came a new level of maturity.  As a parent, I was brimming with pride.

That confidence has come crashing down with the new marking period and more complex math. I'll freely admit that I didn't do well in math as a student and his 5th grade material was over my head.  (Yet somehow I have managed to be a productive adult.)  His last math test (not the assessment of last weeks, but the test the week prior) made him a quivering mess when he did poorly.  Students are to bring home their graded tests and make corrections; a lesson that I stand wholeheartedly behind.  (Learning from mistakes is how we grow.)  But the exercise went on for hours and he broke down in tears and frustration.  Is it any wonder I developed a migraine the next day?  And if I had a headache, can you imagine how he must have felt?

The next assessment (the one that he just took and failed) he studied for.  His tutor came the night before and worked with him.  He put his all into it.  When he came home and was asked how he thought he did, he admitted that he had been very nervous.  What the results showed was that he did make some careless errors (as 10 year olds are apt to do), he did make some computation errors (as any age would do), but mostly the problem was that the multi-step word problems confused him.  He didn't know what do to.  To be honest, having viewed some of the questions he's been asked, I doubt as if I would know what to do.  (Yet I can still keep a household budget, pay my bills on time and balance a checkbook.)

And today (3 "school" days after his last assessment), he has another in class graded assignment.  (Assessment, quiz, test, graded assignment...whatever they want to call it, it all adds up to major case of math anxiety.)  How do you think HE feels about going into this one today?

I know my child is NOT alone.  That there are more children out there who are struggling.  I don't blame the kids and I don't blame the teachers. It is the system that is failing us.  It is turning my child into a stressed out mess.  Heck, it is making my entire family a stressed out mess.  And again, I KNOW we are not alone.  If this is what is happening to my "average ordinary" son, then what is this doing to kids who really struggle?  What is it doing to THEIR confidence level?  How is this helping?  And most importantly, how WILL it help them down in the road?  (AKA:  In real life)

There's no question that my son needs to know math.  Like it or not, math is part of our life.  But the path the school seems to be taking now is not working and not just for my kid. (Which is even more concerning.)   I don't claim to know the answer, but clearly we need one. Things need to change.  Not just for the sake of a better mathematical understanding, but for less stressed, less anxious students.   Because it seems to me now that all we are gaining from this curriculum is worried kids who hate math.  Is that really what we want our future to be?


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