Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Math Doesn't Like Me"

Our youngest daughter has always been the easy-going one. She is quick to smile, even faster to hug, and meets "best friends" every day.

With a late July birthday, we considered waiting until she was age 6 to begin school. But she was 90th percentile in height and weight and scored so high on her pre-K screening that her tester asked us, "Is she bored in pre-school?"

Yet now, after completing 2nd grade and beginning 3rd, she is falling behind in math. And her lack of maturity in dealing with school work is making the matter difficult.

We noticed at the end of 2nd grade that math was getting harder for her. Homework assignments that should have only taken 10 minutes would drag into 30 minutes, then 40 minutes. There was much gnashing of teeth and rolling of eyes. Many times we sent the homework back to school with her half finished, with a request for the teacher to walk through it with her, because she clearly didn't want to work with her parents on it. It was emotionally exhausting when she brought home homework.

We decided that a little extra tutoring over the summer would help, and her 2nd grade teacher agreed. So she tutored for an hour a week with her teacher and did homework a couple of times a week to make sure she didn't have a "summer slide" in her math skills. By the end of the summer her 2nd grade teacher pronounced her ready for 3rd grade math.

But she wasn't.

In an assessment test this fall she got 1 out of 10 answers right. A week later, only 3 out of 30. Concepts that had been taught one-on-one over the summer had apparently been completely forgotten, like they were a foreign language.

We took her to Mathnasium, a learning center that specializes in math. In the initial assessment test they gave her she got a 60% on 1st grade math. We decided to have her tutor at Mathnasium twice a week.

We talked to the social worker at her school, her 2nd grade and 3rd grade teacher, and eventually called a meeting with both the teachers, the social worker and the principal.

Our concern: How is it that Marissa is so far behind in math and yet was given a "meets grade expectations" at the end of 2nd grade? But more importantly, how do we help her to catch up, so she doesn't struggle with math her entire school career?

While we love her 2nd grade teacher and so far are finding her 3rd grade teacher to be a very reasonable and caring person, the school's response was nothing less than frustrating.

Marissa is already in the most basic math group. When they have their math lesson she goes to another teacher's classroom to learn, and she seems to be getting those concepts well.

They have no math specialist at the school.

They have no additional tutoring available.

She's not so far behind that she qualifies for special education.

Basically, there's nothing more they can do.

The school has been trying to pull together something called Alternative Learning Center or ALC, which is additional tutoring for kids who qualify that would take place right after school. Marissa would qualify for this program, but they are asking teachers to volunteer their time to make this happen, and so far only one teacher in the school has volunteered for the program.

My initial thought: Why of COURSE you only have one teacher willing to volunteer! You are asking paid professionals to do FOR FREE something that they do all day long, when they already are being asked to do so much more every single day! That's time that the teachers end up having to use for record keeping, grading, organizing, and doing the job they are paid for. I wouldn't volunteer for that either.

Eventually we received an e-communication from the school that the ALC program has been canceled due to a lack of volunteers. Shocking.

But they encouraged us to keep spending our own money on the private tutoring she's receiving, they think that's great.

They reassured us that some times some kids just don't "get" math, it's okay. Yet her test scores indicate that once upon a time, she DID "get" math. She scored higher on her tests at the beginning of 2nd grade than she did at the beginning of 3rd.

Again, we love her teachers, they are doing everything they can. But the lack of resources at our Minneapolis Public School for Marissa is incredibly frustrating and problematic.

Yes, we are VERY fortunate that our family has the resources to pay for private tutoring for her. We don't have to worry about where we'll stay from one night to the next, or where our next meal will come from, unlike some families in the Minneapolis Public School system. I cannot imagine being a family who faces those challenges and having these discussions with the school on educating our children. No wonder the education gap in Minneapolis is widening. Resources to help children who just don't learn like the majority, or who need just a little extra help, should be available to all families who need it, regardless or whether you can or can't pay for it.

As for our sweet girl, we're going to assess how she's doing at the end of the first semester and possibly ask for a change in teacher. She doesn't seem comfortable having a male teacher and won't ask him questions, something she's never had issues with in prior years. I think she used to bother her 1st grade teacher ad nauseum with questions. Her current teacher noticed that Marissa won't ask him questions and said he  wouldn't take it personally if we asked for a change. We will continue Mathnasium, and will keep encouraging her and giving her positive feedback for the "wins" she's getting in school in reading, writing and other work.

And as much as we hate to do it, we're going to keep our school options open. I am a big believer in public schools, but if we cannot get the resources needed to educate our daughter, we have no choice but to seek them elsewhere. There is nothing more important that we can do for her.


  1. I have a feeling that many families that are struggling to make ends meed do not pay attention to their child's problems because they are struggling to put food on the table and pay bills. So I think a lot of kids fall under the radar. I would not say the problem is unique to Minneapolis. We get students in college who cannot write, spell or do basic math yet they have a high school diploma. I don't know much about the dilemma because my two kids did well and are doing well. That does not mean I'm not concerned. There are so many issues facing us that we have to choose our priorities. Sometimes it just takes time and patience and a light comes on. I suppose in some cases the light doesn't come on as bright as were would want. Temper you remediation and perhaps try to understand what she'll need when she gets older. Maybe there will be a tip off in that research. She still looks pretty with a scowl.

  2. I'm sending good math thoughts to Marissa! I had extra tutoring in math, enough to get me to avg levels for middle school, and then I fell behind again. I did much better with math when it was part of chemistry and physics. The moment I saw pages of abstract problems in classes like algebra I'd freeze. I'd recommend keeping up with the tutoring as long as you can. The other part that is like a sport or instrument there are some kids who will always need to practice a lot at math to be average. It can be really frustrating to need to do pages and pages of problems to finally have it click while the other kids only have to do a few to have the concept click.