The Best of Teachers' Mentor
Addition and Subtraction
What about the effect on the students?
On My Soapbox
The debate about using speed tests with children has been going on for many years. There are some who think the tests put too much pressure on children. But if children are to do well at higher level mathematics, they need to master the basic facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Speed tests can help most children do just that.
I used speed tests on basic math facts because they worked. Our school was K-3. The fourth grade teachers at the school the children went to next would tell me that they knew who had been in my class because my students knew the multiplication facts.
But I called these tests TIMED tests rather than speed tests. One of my goals in giving the tests was to practice for the standardized testing situation. I have seen kids really freak out on the first experience with a standardized test if they have never had the practice of working under the pressure of time. I explained that this was good practice for standardized tests in their future. We talked about how to prepare for a test, including ways to relax before any kind of test. We discussed the fact you can still do well on a standardized test even if you don't finish all the questions.
I used a series of short, teacher-made tests with most lasting only one or two minutes. The tests were given daily. The child had to get 90% mastery on a test before s/he went to the next level. (A child could leave two problems blank and still pass, which reinforced the idea of doing well on timed standardized tests.) If they did not pass, they got the same test the next day. I did have two forms of the test, the same problems in a different order. I started this after having several children memorize the order of the answers instead of the facts.
I did not penalize for finger counting, although I encouraged memory. Some children passed by learning to count faster. I did not record a grade each day, nor put a number grade on the paper. The paper simply got a big check if they had 90% or better. Wrong answers were circled. Unanswered problems had a line drawn beside them. I gave the tests early in the day so that they were checked and returned before the students went home. They could use the returned paper to study the ones they missed.
These are the tests which I gave in the fall. Tests 1 - 5 lasted one minute. (See example test.)
If you do the time per problem, you will see that the 100-problem test had much more time per problem. The fact that there are 100 problems on the page is really intimidating. The amazement that they could do that many problems in 4 or 5 minutes, well before the timer went off, was a real psychological boost.
Second semester I started teaching and testing multiplication facts. 100% mastery was required on the one-minute tests, 90% on the two-minute tests. The two-minute mix tests provided maintenance of previously learned facts. Again I didn't penalize for finger counting, but did encourage memory. As with the addition & subtraction tests, I had two forms of each test with the same problems in a different order. The children kept taking the same test until they passed it. Corrected papers were returned by the end of the school day so that missed facts could be studied for homework.
We did work on division facts along with the multiplication facts. Children who had completed the above series took a 100-problem test on division facts.
I recorded one grade for the short timed tests at the end of the 6 - week grading period. It was equal to one test grade. A couple of weeks before the grading period ended, I would announce which test level a student had to have reached to get a certain grade. I tried to set this so that any student who was trying got at least a low C.
I gave the 100-problem tests once and did record a grade based on our system's grading scale. If a child had a low grade (D/F), s/he was given a chance to retake the test.
After a reasonable period of time (usually after two grading periods), I stopped giving the tests. The ones who hadn't finished the series by that time were the same ones who never turned in homework, rarely passed spelling tests, etc., so I knew they were not studying the facts.
I tried to make the timed testing low key and only kept a checksheet for myself in order to know which daily test a child needed. No grade was given until the final one at the end of the grading period. There were other untimed math tests as well as daily assignments each grading period, so the timed test grade was only a small percentage of the final grade.
If a child was not passing tests, I pulled him/her aside to discuss why. It was usually because no extra studying was being done at home. But, occasionally, by observation and by talking to the child, I realized I had a timed-test phobic.
I tried to ease the pressure on a phobic student. We reviewed some of the ways to relieve test anxiety. Sometimes I would work out a secret signal with a child as a reminder to do some deep breathing before the test began. I wrote encouraging notes on the test paper if there was even a little improvement from the day before. In extreme cases, I told students I would not count it in their grade. The child did keep taking the test every day because being singled out by not taking it created another set of problems; children do hate to be different from their peers.
If an LD student was having a problem, I worked with the resource teacher. Sometimes the resource teacher gave the test with more time or fewer problems than I would have used in the classroom, but usually some extra practice in the resource room was all that was needed.
We cannot and should not protect children from all the difficulties of life. The adult world is not stress-free. Learning to handle the smaller challenges as a child prepares a person for the greater challenges s/he will face as an adult. And with today's current trend toward more testing, practice of test-taking skills is a necessary part of a child's education.
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