Math causes anxiety. Tests cause more anxiety. Math tests? Yeah, anxiety, and more than additive.

I tell students that they must pass tests. I tell them what’s on the tests in advance. I advise them how to study. And still, not everyone passes. If it’s one kid, we can handle that individually. But when it is a handful?

My response is 3-pronged, depending on the topic.

1. Move on.
2. Correct yourself.
3. Retest.

Move on. This is both the easiest, and the worst option (at least by itself). In history, you don’t get China? You’ll do better on India. No worry. But in mathematics, skills build on one another. Don’t understand how to manipulate a variable in September? You’ll be crying until June, unless we get you some help.

Correct yourself. This is easy for the teacher, not necessarily for the student. I don’t use it for the most crucial skills. In short, take your exam, rewrite all or part of it, and I will return some credit.

(more beneath the fold —>)

My favorite variation (hardest for both students and for me) is to rewrite every question that had any deduction, no matter how small, and include an explanation of what went wrong on the original test, and how you can avoid the error in the future.

The last time I did this, it was required for every student scoring below 80, and I gave back half the points up to 90, and then one fifth of the points the rest of the way. (so a 70 could earn half of the first 20, and a fifth of the next ten, for a new total of 82). And a student with a 90 did in fact rewrite for the 2 points that were available. More importantly, students with scores far lower created (albeit not under test conditions) quality work, with explanations of errors to be avoided.

Try again. For the most important topics, we retest. Factoring, that’s one I consider a major topic. Every student who scored below 80 on the exam two weeks ago will be required to attend two days of focused tutoring when we return, followed by a different version of the same test. (they will also need to show test corrections). And if we need to, we will retest again, though we will be down to only those with hardcore factoring problems by that point.

I like the flexibility. I like that students know in advance that the target is mastery, and that allowance is made for those who take a bit longer. I do think that this removes some of the anxiety. And I like that students can’t quit on one topic and wait for the next.

It would be better if everyone got everything the first time. But since not everyone does, there needs to a plan.

December 28, 2007 am31 10:53 am 10:53 am

JD, the more I talk with math teachers, the more I realize how similar the disciplines of math and fl are. I share your same three-pronged approach, btw, w/r/t the students.