• by Blaine Helwig

Math Test Stamina Issues? – Numeracy to the Rescue!

“My fifth graders can’t do 35 to 40 word problems in 4 hours! How can the State Education Agency expect any 10 year old to finish a math test that long?”

“After only 2 hours, my kids stop showing work and their work is so disorganized and sloppy.”

“Stop showing work after 2 hours? That is nothing! My kids are guessing at that point.”

I have heard these typical elementary math teacher utterances over the years – and some laced with salty language. It is the emotion of the situation that is bubbling out. Teachers are working diligently to make a difference in young children's lives, and the lack of success at times is frustrating. They are not alone – there is far too much disappoint in too many classrooms. It is far too common in many Title 1 elementary and middle schools each spring as standardized math tests arrive seemingly faster than an oncoming train or a speeding bullet – and Superman is not coming to the rescue. Teachers are! But, with the tools to curb and stop kids’ math test stamina difficulties.

Why is Math Stamina Occurring?

There are obvious explanations why elementary students have stamina issues on math tests. It is not complicated, and preventing it is not all that difficult either. But, consistency in practices and tools is an absolute necessity or students will continue struggling with the intestinal fortitude to complete standardized grade level math assessments.

Let’s define the two basic issues generally causing students’ lack of standardized math test stamina.

  1. Students have not had the daily word problem practice throughout the school year – 4 to 8 word problems per day will do the job.

  2. A lack of mastered grade level numeracy in both math facts and math process skills. Students without math fact and skill proficiency will be ineffective when solving word problems. Simply put. They are overwhelmed!

No real surprise here on the first reason. Human beings are not good at what they do not consistently practice. Now, the second reason on insufficient numeracy skills is a little bit more unanticipated – especially to novice teachers. A structured daily numeracy plan is the only efficient and effective remedy to stamina problems.

Of course, students need to know the physical meaning embedded in a math algorithm and the related computations. Teachers must teach that content, and their students must understand the concept thoroughly. But, students must also practice the standard algorithms of multi-digit addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Why use standard algorithms after students have ingrained the physical meaning?”

Some teachers may be convinced that if students understand that 32 x 45 is simply 32 added 45 times or vice versa, that is good math conceptual knowledge. And, they are correct. It is great conceptual understanding, but the pragmatic issue is that a fifth grade standardized math test contains approximately 50 problems with a time limit of 4 hours (i.e. 240 minutes). Students only have about 5 minutes per problem and many of the problems are now multi-step solutions – do the math. They obviously do not have the time, and they are mentally out of gas if they are adding 32 – 45 times as the first step on only one of fifty word problems. For efficiency reasons, both the Common Core (CC) and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skill (TEKS) math standards advocate the teaching of standard algorithms.

In elementary and middle schools – whether Title 1 school or not – math stamina concerns are all too often a numeracy math fact and skill proficiency issue. Kids must be proficient at fundamental numeracy skills with continual exposure in a sequential manner throughout the school year. Once implemented with consistent practice every school day, student stamina math test issues disappear – faster than an oncoming train or a speeding bullet. Super Teacher has arrived with a solution to numeracy stamina issues!