When I went to the National Conference on Education last week, one question I wanted answered was , “Why are students not learning math?”
I came away with two, related answers. One is that many middle school students have a lot of mental health and substance abuse issues – both their own and their parents — that interfere with learning. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for kids 10-14. Let that sink in for a minute.
Math lessons don’t consider the low-achieving students
I went to the site of a well-known education company. When I started reading their math lessons, it sounded great. There is a pre-test of 5-7 problems. Next, students practice what they know. Then, there is some direct instruction on new concept. Students are guided through working a problem. Then there is a post-test.
As I was reading all of this, it sounded great. I thought, “Why would anyone need us? These guys have it all – pretest, best practices instruction, post-test.”
Many, many students that I know would never get past the pre-test. Five math questions to get started? It’s hard. It’s boring. I don’t know this.
Everything in this lesson sounds really good – to me. It was clearly written with teachers and administrators in mind, which is probably why this company is successful in selling to schools.
Whether it is low self-esteem, attention deficit disorder, depression or a hundred other reasons, I don’t know. What I do know is that many students find it very difficult to get started – whether it is called a quiz, a worksheet or guided instruction.
I totally understand that administrators want evidence that an intervention, whether it is software or a new reading program is working. So, they do the pre- and post-test. The students who are willing to do this generally are the more motivated, higher achieving ones. The students who don’t do the tests are never counted in the data.
So, what do we do about it?