How to Tell if Your Student's Math Grades Will Get Worse Part II 

Read part one here.

  1. Poor Standardized Test Performance

If your student is getting good grades in math class but is receiving disproportionately lower marks on standardized tests, this could be a sign of imminent math difficulties.  Standardized tests (both state and national exams) tend to focus on the core components that are meant to be learned and understood from math classes.  Often, math concepts are presented in an atypical manner to test a student’s mastery of the subject.  If your student gets good grades and class but struggles with these tests, it may be a sign that they are memorizing to pass tests rather than learning to build skills.

  1. Complex Calculator Reliance

A new problem that is becoming more common is the over-reliance on complex calculators.  This problem is more common in high school students than in lower level math classes.  It is not that students are using simple calculators to check simple arithmetic – it is instead that some students are using programmable calculators to perform complex tasks for them.  These tasks include factoring, solving systems of equations, finding graph shifts, imbedding functions, taking derivatives and integrals, storing and using equations, and much more.  Some calculators now even show you the steps leading to the answer!

Now, none of these things are bad on their own, and can even be helpful in checking answers, understanding new concepts, and losing the reliance on memorization.  Being familiar with a graphing calculator is actually a useful and important math skill.  However, when misused, they can lead to a student succeeding in a math class without learning to do things on their own.  This can cripple them on a test without the calculator and in the next level class where previous skills are expanded upon.

  1. Newfound Dislike of Math

If your student used to like math but doesn’t any longer, this could be a sign that their understanding is weakening.  It is less common for a student who understands the material to dislike the subject than it is for a confused student to dislike the subject.  Students like to be good at things and feel confident.  If they are still getting good grades, but no longer like math, it may be a sign that they are starting to rely on memorization and are no longer mastering important skills in their class.  This can lead to their grades falling in the future.

            Don’t let your student who is good at math be crippled by a preventable problem.  Often, this cycle of non-understanding, non-mastery, and short-term memorization is started and can be stopped in just one class.  There are many factors that can cause the problem, and it likely isn’t even entirely your student’s fault.  As a tutor I find that poor teachers who either don’t give enough individual attention, don’t emphasize fundamentals and make students master them for the future, or simply isn’t good at lecturing or explaining new concepts are often the leading culprits in new math difficulties. 

Intervene early, stop the problem before it gets worse, and don’t let your student start saying “I was good at math until.”

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test online tutor with TutorNerd in Irvine and Anaheim.