kitchen table math, the sequel: Open House - Grade 8

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Open House - Grade 8

Well, last night was open house. I've become quite passive and docile. I didn't even grimace when they went on and on about our two rubric grading system, one for academics and one for effort. I didn't bat an eye when they talked about getting in our form detailing our child's learning styles. I won't send it in. They don't care. My son still has to do art work for learning.

Once again, they will not take advantage of 21st century tools and make sure the latest homework assignments are posted on their web site. They say that it's the responsibility of the child to make sure they have the homework assignment. What it really means is that the school doesn't want to force all teachers to do this.

In one room, a teacher was showing how a SmartBoard works - sort of, even though he has had it for over a year. We signed up (already) for our student-led portfolio review in December, where we get to listen to our son tell us how he is going to be a better student. Never mind the fact that the contents of the portfolio should have come home long ago. That way we could respond to issues sooner. We were told about weekly teacher comments (with rubric numbers or checks) that will come home in our son's planner. They are completely out of context because all of the work is stored in the portfolio. We have to sign this meaningless form or else our son will get a detention.

We got a big talk about the National Junior Honor Society (they decided to do this again) and all of the requirements. It sounded like there were too many non-academic requirements. They say that they want to recognize academics as much as sports, but in sports, students don't have to do a lot of volunteer work and be the perfect young adult. The rules seem way too manipulative. The teachers know you want the award and are watching your every step. Maybe they should have rubrics to decide who wins in sports.

Oh well, back to after-schooling.


RMD said...

yes . . . disheartening . . . I've given up too.

I wonder how many are after-schooling these days?

Anonymous said...

Boy, Steve, I feel for you.

Our middle school teachers were actually better about using the computer for assignments than some of the high school teachers we're dealing with. It just seems to depend on the teacher.

Our Smart Boards have arrived, too! They're just as buggy as any school computer can be.


Anonymous said...

And of course they do have a rubric to decide who wins in sports: goal difference.

CassyT said...

I can no longer keep it in. Last month, my husband and I attended the 9th grade Back To School night at the high school. My son has 4 IB classes, 4 regular classes. He opted for Geospace Science because it sounded interesting.

The teacher begins by telling us that the students can keep their notebooks in a drawer in the classroom, because if they take them home, they'll lose them. She says there won't be much homework, because the kids never bring it back. "I don't have really high expectations for these students" is a direct quote.

The parent of the only other freshman(also IB) in the class asked how our young'uns were doing with all the older students.

The teacher replies:
"Oh, they're great! They always have their hand in the air, really on top of things." she gushed, continuing, "Some of these kids have taken this class 2 or 3 times, they need a physical science credit and can't pass physics. I wish I had a class full of kids like yours."

I wonder what the other parents in the room thought about her opinions of their student.

Dawn said...

I think you guys need to stop calling it after-schooling. What you're doing IS homeschooling, it's just that the homeschooling gets interrupted by 6 hours of crafts and confusion.

Barry Garelick said...

Afterschooling is different than homeschooling. With the latter, you choose the curriculum. With the former you are trying to teach them what they need to know plus keep them caught up with their "day job" no matter how ridiculous that is. With afterschooling you are held hostage to the school's curriculum, ultimately.

Anonymous said...

NO afterschooling for me this year...I finally made the decision to enroll my kids in a private school. After one week in public middle school, my 6th grader came home and said, "Did you put me in the wrong math class?" According to him, the kids in the class couldn't divide or add and he was reprimanded for working ahead and not paying attention.

As for my third grader, he came home with doodles he did during class time. Nice.

The new school is heavy on direct instruction and has decent textbooks...Glencoe and Saxon for math.

Finally, I can sleep at night :)

Paula V

SteveH said...

"The new school is heavy on direct instruction and has decent textbooks...Glencoe and Saxon for math."

Unfortunately, there are none of those schools in our area. I brought my son back to our public school in 6th grade. The high school is supposed to be much better (in the honors track), so we are holding on one more year until he gets there.

SteveH said...

"Afterschooling is different than homeschooling."

It's reactive. For example, yesterday, I had to have a long talk with my very frustrated son about "public policy" because the social studies teacher gave them a quick overview and then threw an essay at them. I can't imagine what some other students do if they get no help at home. Teachers must see the difference. It's not that I'm doing the work for my son. I'm just giving him all of the needed background information. It's a lot.

I wish I kept a log over the years about the help I've given him. It's a wee bit more than providing a nice place to work, checking that he has done his homework, and "modeling" an interest in education.

Ari said...

I help my sister afterschool my niece. She goes to a private school kindergarten and it does appear that they must be using some sort of "reform" math with low standards (oh! but we have smart boards!). But even if they used Singapore Math, they probably wouldn't use all the workbooks, including intensive problems, challenging, etc. I can always find more ways to push more math.

Cranberry said...

"Once again, they will not take advantage of 21st century tools and make sure the latest homework assignments are posted on their web site. They say that it's the responsibility of the child to make sure they have the homework assignment. What it really means is that the school doesn't want to force all teachers to do this."

In my old age, I now call this laziness on the part of the teachers--and dysfunction on the part of the administration. If a teacher can't post homework on the website--which they have--it means they don't have lesson plans. They don't have a clue how long they will spend on any lessons, so they can't predict on Monday what the assignment will be on Tuesday.

Sure, it's the responsibility of the child to copy down the homework assignment. It's also the responsibility of the teacher to be able to make the assignment easily available. I've known parents who had to mount search and destroy expeditions to try to get homework assignments for children who were out sick.

Primarily, it's a sign of administrative dysfunction, though. If the tools are available, they should be used. A student who doesn't know what the homework is--perhaps they were on a field trip, for example--shouldn't need to try to find an organized classmate. What is the internet for, if not for communication?

Beta said...

"Afterschooling is different than homeschooling. With the latter, you choose the curriculum. With the former you are trying to teach them what they need to know plus keep them caught up with their "day job" no matter how ridiculous that is."
I'm new to the wonderful world of Everyday Math. I heard about it only last year when my son started 1st grade. After doing a little bit of research and watching the youtube video of how long division is done in EM, I was alarmed. So I ordered Singapore math and kept comparing what my son was doing in school with what was in those books. First grade with EM wasn't too bad. At school, my son basically did the same things as what I saw in Singapore texts. He is now three weeks into the second grade and his only two math homework so far consisted of finding three interesting things in his Math Reference Book, and reviewing number grids. Needless to say our Singapore Math textbooks and workbooks for 2nd grade are on their way. I started "afterschooling" last week, but I am concerned about the effectiveness of this approach, especially when the methods we use at home start to drastically deviate from what the children see at school. Wouldn't this also cause a significant level of frustration for kids? I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.

Anonymous said...

Some of us were a bit worried about this a few years ago. I don't know if the old KTM site is still around, but we had several posts about "parallel learning." We had the same concerns. Some of us had teachers who would discourage us from doing anything extra.

My personal experience is that it not only didn't cause frustration, but rather increased confidence in both my sons. I just let them do what they did at school, and had "Mom" school a few times a week and occasionally on weekends.

Eventually, they have to have some procedural fluency and mastery whether it is expected in the classroom or not. You're just making sure that your kid has it.

Singapore is also pretty strong in conceptual understanding, so I wouldn't worry about that part either.

The EM parents here can probably be more specific, though.


SteveH said...

"Sure, it's the responsibility of the child to copy down the homework assignment"

The giveaway in our school is that some teachers are very good about posting homework. I can accept that the school might ban it to force kids to be more organized, but then they should tell all teachers not to post the homework.

Of course, the big justification is for students who are out sick. Also, our school uses a six day rotation of classes so that even teachers get confused about what "day" it is.

lgm said...


My experience with running a different math curriculum at home during the school year is that it is not frustrating. The children enjoy exercising their minds. At school, the curriculum spirals quite a bit, so there is rarely anything new. My youngest child's fifth grade only did 4 of the 12chapters in the text - the school that year decided they needed to spend more time on prepping for the state social studies test and in increasing reading comprehension. We found SM prepared our children well.

The Well-Trained Mind website has a board for afterschoolers if you'd like to wander over. Many folks there seem to be supplementing subjects the schools aren't teaching (such as spelling) as well as enriching what the schools are trying to do (math, literature, science).

SteveH said...

"Wouldn't this also cause a significant level of frustration for kids?"

It depends. My son went through 5 years of EM. I bought the Singapore Math set of books, but did not follow it very carefully. This meant that my son didn't feel like he was doing one math at school and a separate math at home that didn't match up.

One of the things I did do was to spend more time in the summer to cover things that I thought he was missing. I suppose it helped that I have degrees in engineering. I didn't make it feel like summer school.

During the school year, the help at home mainly focused on EM. Some of their problems are fine, but they have very few homework problems and they quickly spiral on to new topics. I made sure my son understood and mastered the material the first time he saw it. I covered material that was in Singapore Math, but I wasn't rigorous about covering every last page.

I thought about this a while back. What parents need is a math resource instead of an alternate curriculum. It should cover the basics such that it can be used alone or as a supplement to another curriculum. The problem with EM, however is that it doesn't spend much time on one topic before it jumps to another. It's very tough to supplement because it's designed around the idea of no mastery at any one point in time. They want to "trust the spiral". It's repeated partial learning. The tough job parents have is to make sure that there is no need to repeat. You have to move fast.

If you get through all of the material in EM through 6th grade (and master it), then it's not so bad, but this rarely happens. My son's fifth grade EM teacher didn't get to 35% of the material. That meant more work for the summer.

I guess that would be my recommendation. Ensure and supplement EM during the school year, but fill in and catch up with Singapore Math in the summer. My son didn't mind the summer work. I just scheduled the time and told him that it is the way things are. Even in the early grades, he recognized the advantage he had over the other kids. He liked that part. He sees himself as a top student and he will work to stay that way.

SteveH said...

I suppose that the biggest thing is to get started in the early grades. Kids will get used to the idea that Mom and Dad expect a lot more than the homework they get from school. Frustration is relative, so I try to force the bar higher.

For my son, school work comes first, even if it's silly. This might mean that hours are spent on a diorama and little or no time is left for real learning. This is fine.

I try to tie a lot of the supplementing to what's going on at school, and I carry it as far as I can. He is learning about public policy in social studies, so I am going on and on about what this means in terms of local, state, and federal governments.

Anonymous said...

I did a lot of plugging in when I saw gaps, also. But, when my middle school special ed son kept coming home with clock faces and single digit subtraction, I started to panic.

I had met with various teacher about it, but nothing changed. I was also worried about confusing him. However, I noticed that his math assignments were all over the map. There was no coherency. This is tough for most kids, but for special ed, it's that much tougher.

By 7th grade I copied Catherine and ordered Saxon 6/5 and 7/6. I had him do the exercises, quizzes, worksheets and most of the mental math exercises for 4/5 days a week. It was easier since he was older and could work on his own. I didn't skip around and often read the chapters like a script.

During 8th grade, his teachers would remark on his newly acquired skills with shock. By the end of the year his teacher asked me if I realized that he was doing some pre-algebra.

These were well-meaning and excellent teachers in many ways, but something went wrong with math.
I really hand wrung over it because I knew he would be doing different things than what was he was doing in class, that is until I realized that he had surpassed what was going on in class pretty quickly.

With my other son, it's been more like Steve's experience, with maybe a couple of exceptions. I did just parallel teach grammar and history following the Well-Trained Mind's suggestions. I wish now that I had started and continued with spelling.

My advice would be to not be intimidated if your gut is telling you something. I think it also helps to start working with your kids early so that they're used to getting things from you. I have friends that don't feel they can work with their kids because they're older and really resist. My sons have never known any different.


Barry Garelick said...

If you start early enough with SIngapore (like 2nd or 3rd grade) what they get in EM will be a repeat of material they've already learned, so you won't be in the position of retrofitting a program that can't be retrofitted (I'm talking about EM).

I wrote of my experiences tutoring my daughter with Singapore when she had EM. My mistake was waiting until she was in 6th grade. I was in the position of having to stay one step ahead of the train wreck of Everyday Math. Nevertheless, SM was effective. Having to get them through the EM homework was a pain in the butt, however, particularly when it kept changing topics at the drop of a pin.

See here for the article. Read tje comments as well. They are enlightening.

Allison said...

Catherine's not here, but I'm sure she would have a lot to say on when afterschooling works, as our hostess is the original afterschooler wrt this website. But as she's not here, I'll paraphrase her ideas to me, as I understand them. (So attribute the errors to me, not her!)

here's a quote I have from an email of hers
"When you’re trying to reteach content to a child who is failing to learn at school ---- it is the worst possible situation."

I think that's the gist. However you approach afterschooling, reteaching is to be avoided if possible. SteveH and Barry explain that they avoid reteaching by trying to be first to teach the concept. Then the teacher's explanation can be basically ignored, so no reteaching has to happen.

If you're concerned about a school's curricula, afterschooling is most effective when it mimics homeschooling. It's least effective when

a) you start doing remediation at the middle school level having never done afterschooling before,

b) you don't know what your child doesn't know,

c) you don't know what the curriculum hasn't taught

The remediation itself is awful. The child recognizes something is wrong, but will still feel the child is in the wrong; the parent may think that as well; both will feel frustrated with undoing the ongoing damage. Preteen middle school is fraught with pain, and the stigma of suddenly needing to be remediated is not helping matters.

And then if you're really remediating to help them in their current class, then you're still stuck with a terrible curriculum rather than just starting at the place of good knowledge and going forward.

But if instead of just suddenly finding out you need to be afterschooling 6 years in, you have been doing some teaching of your child from early on, then you might have a very good idea of what they know, and you might have practice and experience explaining concepts to your children.

If you do parallel learning, then at least you aren't so dependent on what they are supposed to have learned, nor do you fight the painful struggle that they and you are totally frustrated at not understanding what's required, what was supposed to be background knowledge, what's missing.

And of course if you're on this board, you are SO FAR AHEAD of the game, and you will be noticing the issues and discrepancies. When it comes to Everyday Math, your kid may hit frustrations--like why he's required to do partial products instead of a perfectly rational long division algorithm. If every day your kid is frustrated, then you might find homeschooling or a new school is best anyway. But that's likely to be child-personality question, too, as much as it's a math preparation question. Other kids may learn rather quickly how to game their Everyday Math curriculum and not be frustrated. But you'll be equipped to see which it is fairly quickly, I expect.

SteveH said...

Nice overiew.

Although I try to keep my son ahead of the game, there is still a lot of reactionary afterschooling, such as last week, when he was hit with writing a paper on public policy. At least most of the other kids are in the same boat.

Another technique used for kids in middle school is to introduce them to the SAT or ACT exams. This gives them a more tangible goal for learning. It may not work in many cases, but some kids love concrete goals, and it might form a basis for parallel learning. This is what I want to do, but it's more difficult now (in 8th grade) because he has much more regular schoolwork.

VickyS said...

And of course if you're on this board, you are SO FAR AHEAD of the game, and you will be noticing the issues and discrepancies.

Amen. I have a close friend whose kids are several years behind mine, and I bent her ear continually about this stuff. She took my advice and began afterschooling with Singapore from day 1 of first grade (and now wishes she'd done English, too, by the way). So it was just what they did from the start, and the kids thought it was normal, so there's been much less friction.

Without a jumpstart like this board or a friend with older children, it can take years for the insanity of elementary education to sink in. I started smelling a rat when my kids were around grades 3-5 but figured it out too late to do anything but remediate and try to fill in the gaps.

With math I was lucky; it was touch and go and at least one of my boys has emerged from the other end of afterschooling and interschooling (middle school at home) both good at, and liking, math. But I'm sad to say that it was too late for writing--they were too resistant. It breaks my heart because writing is so important.

For many kids, when you catch it at middle school, I think despite a parent's best efforts it may be too late.

A couple of things I've learned as a parent are:

1. If your elementary age child is hiding under the bed every morning refusing to go to school, it's more likely that there is something wrong with the school, not the kid, no matter what the school tells you. Ditch the school, pronto.

2. If your elementary age child is crying while trying to do math homework and/or if you do not understand your child's math homework, your school is probably using a constructivist curriculum and if you don't do something about it, soon, your child will probably end up hating math for good and the world may have lost yet another chemical engineer, thanks to the NCTM.

3. If most or all of your child's writing exercises have to do with connections, personal reflections, autobiographies, feelings, favorite this or that, past experiences, family, community, and hopes and dreams, your child will end up with a monumental case of writer's block, won't know how to write even if he does ever break through it, and the world may have lost yet another lawyer or diplomat, thanks to Lucy Calkins.

And yeah, bravo Allison for putting it in a nutshell--that comment should be moved upfront!

Laura said...

They say that it's the responsibility of the child to make sure they have the homework assignment.

I'm bumping up against this attitude a lot in my student teaching. What I find most frustrating about it is how easy it is to retrofit old-fashioned "lazy teacher" tactics (make everything the responsibility of the child) with progressivist ideology--e.g., it's actually *good* for the child to struggle indefinitely and not have anyone step in to help them figure things out.

I've only just finished my second week, but the teacher has already put a stop to the minimal help I was offering (and enjoying offering!) during writer's workshop, which had consisted mainly of reminding students what they were supposed to be writing on their little sticky notes, and sometimes letting the students talk through ideas with me.

No, no, it's good for students to experience "dissonance" (still don't know what she meant by that--I think she meant confusion, and might have been thinking vaguely of cognitive dissonance? Who knows.)

Catherine Johnson said...

I didn't even grimace when they went on and on about our two rubric grading system, one for academics and one for effort.


I'm disappointed in you!

Catherine Johnson said...

The old site is still around! The monthly fees are now on my credit card so there should be no problem from now on.

Speaking of monthly fees, I need to start earning a living again.


Catherine Johnson said...

SMART Boards are fantastically buggy!

One of C's teachers used to say there was a "SMART Board god."

SMART Board god made executive decisions from on-high as to whether any given SMART Board would or would not boot up that day.

Catherine Johnson said...

Of course, the irony is that SMART Boards, as used in the classrooms here, do nothing that PowerPoints & computer projectors do - but since SMART Boards are new, they perform these functions much less smoothly.

Laptops & projectors were incredibly buggy and expensive when they were first developed; now they are reliable and cheap.

So public schools have dumped the reliable and cheap technology in favor of the unreliable and expensive technology.

Bright and shiny.

Catherine Johnson said...

The crazy thing is that public schools don't seem to **have** a price point where technology is concerned.

If it's new, schools want it.

I like new things, too, but not at any price. The Kindle doesn't have the features I want (& need as a writer) SO I DIDN'T BUY IT WHEN IT CAME OUT.

Also, I didn't buy the first Kindle because I figured the second Kindle would probably be better.

I finally bought a **refurbished** Kindle yesterday because a price of $219 seems not-crazy. (Does anyone do Total Cost of Ownership or efficiency analyses for writers??)

Public schools don't seem to have a standard for what is and is not crazy.

Catherine Johnson said...

NO afterschooling for me this year...I finally made the decision to enroll my kids in a private school.

You are going to have a MUCH BETTER YEAR!

Having C. at Hogwarts has been almost bizarre: we do **no** afterschooling or reteaching at all.


We only met his teachers last year twice (once for me since I was snowed out the second time).

Twice was plenty.

I still make C. do Megawords & I had him do some ALEKS geometry lessons this summer, but that's it.

In fact, I actually have to force myself to be more involved. C's English teacher last year preferred that parents do some copy editing of their kids' writing, and I had to be reminded!

This year, assuming I ever get back to Irvington, I'm going to look at C's writing & help with copy editing.

Catherine Johnson said...

Allison - "reactive teaching" was the very first concept we started with back at the old ktm. I think Carolyn (Johnston) came up with that term.

Then there was "death march to algebra" and "cramming to mastery."

Both of which I have extensive experience with.

pop quiz: how many times can you teach/reteach simple probability & not learn it?


Next time I get to a simple probability lesson I'll be learning it all over again, as if it were the first time.

Catherine Johnson said...

ok, have yet to read all the comments (& I will get Allison's up front) - but must shower & head over to the hospital.


Hainish said...

Laura, that sounds like a really awful attitude on the part of the classroom teacher.

Can I ask you in what part of the country you're student teaching / enrolled? (I imagine you don't want to reveal the names of any specific school.)

Laura said...

Hainish, my program is online, but I'm student teaching in Westchester County, NY. It's a very well regarded school district, with great resources (especially for special ed). I'm trying to keep an open mind about the teacher, and she's not a bad teacher (she isn't easily flustered, for instance, and doesn't yell, and does a decent job at discipline), she's professional, and she's pretty nice to me, but it is very frustrating feeling like my hands are being tied.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote:
>Another technique used for kids in middle school is to introduce them to the SAT or ACT exams. This gives them a more tangible goal for learning.

Steve, do you have any concrete information as to how to do this? I.e., what is the minimal age, how do you sign them up when they are not yet high-schoolers, etc.?

I’ve been thinking about this for our homeschooled kids, too. Since we are not doing regular testing (although our kids do take the state NCLB test – which is kind of a joke), I’d like them to get some exposure to *real* testing. The SAT is certainly real – at least it was when I took it. (I actually kind of enjoyed the SAT – a test written by intelligent people aimed at intelligent students, no fooling around, no fluff.)

And, as you imply, there is something to be said for giving the kids focus – sort of the way piano teachers view recitals (practice, or make a fool of yourself on stage).


Anonymous said...


You can go to the College Board site and sign up for SAT. Google ACT test for that site.

The Talent Searches suggest Explore for upper grade school and ACT/SAT for middle school. The ACT has a no-essay version, also. You should be able to sign up at the site. The tests are running all year long at different schools.

I had my 7th grader take it twice during the year. We only used prep books, but he got a lot out of it. We just had the scores sent to us since he wasn't going to any college.


Anonymous said...

Here it is: and I think the Explore test is at one of them. Explore is mostly used for 8th graders, so it is a good test with no ceiling for upper grade school.

Also, check out Northwestern's CTD (Center for Talent Development). They will have the Midwest Talent Search info. There they give advice about when your kid should take what test. For instance, if you kid is hitting the 97th percentile in the 7th grade, they suggest taking the ACT or SAT. They also give ranges of scores for kids, so you have an idea what to expect and what is good for a kid that age.

Also, Johns Hopkins and Duke have talent searches. They probably have tips and advice at their sites, too.


SteveH said...

Others, like Susan, have more experience about this than I have. The only thing I had my son take was the SCAT test required by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth when he was in 5th grade. We didn't do much with it because the courses were expensive and the only real time to do it was summer. That didn't happen. However, it was good to have him take the test.

Since then, I've dropped the ball. He took an after school SSAT course I gave at his school when he was in 6th grade, but he wasn't thrilled about it. He is now in 8th grade and we didn't do anything about these tests last year. Now I have to get him focused on the real goal now.

As an engineer, I would like him to look at a college entrance merit function, like the Academic Index, and work backwards. Take your SAT Math and Verbal scores and divide them by 10. Then add in a number that tops off at 80 for your class ranking, which depends on the number of kids in your high school senior class. It's nonlinear. First in class gets an 80, then it drops to maybe 70 between the 10 and 15th place, and then it drops off more gradually after that. Add them all together to get a number with a maximum of 240. I read somewhere that the average for Ivy League colleges is 210.

Of course there are many other factors, but this is where the most effort should be placed. My son is mostly focused on his schools grades. I have to get him focused on the other two-thirds of the formula.

As we all know, there is often little connection between what is taught in class and what is tested on the SAT. One of these areas is critical reading. My son never gets this in school. They sit in circles and discuss books. ("How does the book make you feel?") On the SAT, you have to answer very specific questions. I call it technical reading, and it requires concentration and practice.

I just have to figure out how to add it into what he has to do already. Maybe I can pull out small critical reading pieces rather than tell him to take a whole sample SAT test.

PhysicistDave said...

I guess I should have been more specific.

I’m familiar with the SAT site, but what I wanted to know is how the details work out for “under-age” kids. My recollection was that SAT has a lower age limit of 13, but I occasionally hear of kids much younger who take it. Anyone know how that works out?

Also, as I recall, most high-school kids just take the SAT at their own high school. As I recall, a school is not obligated to let anyone take the SAT who is not their own student, and of course “under-age” kids will not normally be high-school students. Anyone knows how that works out? Are high schools quite open about this sort of thing? Or, are there SAT test sites different from high schools?

Or, am I completely misunderstanding the whole procedure? (It has been over thirty years since I took the SAT myself!)


PhysicistDave said...


I’ve been planning on having our kids take the Hopkins test in fifth grade also. How did it go? Good experience for your kid or miserable? Are you glad you did it?

You also wrote:
>As we all know, there is often little connection between what is taught in class and what is tested on the SAT. One of these areas is critical reading. My son never gets this in school. They sit in circles and discuss books. ("How does the book make you feel?") On the SAT, you have to answer very specific questions. I call it technical reading, and it requires concentration and practice.

Yeah, that is one of my concerns and one of the reasons I want them to take the SAT fairly early – it may be quite a wake-up call! (Or maybe it won’t be so bad – anyway, it would be good to know.)

Incidentally, there is an old book from Teachers’ College Columbia, still in print, the “McCall-Crabbs Standard Test Lessons in Reading,” that I am finding useful. (It was recommended by a phonics reading specialist, Linda Schrock Taylor, who has been battling for years for phonics – see ).

The book has over 300 three-minute timed lessons. I have found by experiment that if I have my kids do one or two of these each day for a couple weeks before a standardized test, then their score is a good deal higher on the test.

However, I am not sure if this will transfer to the SAT.


SteveH said...

"How did it go?"

The actual process was kind of weird. We called and set a date with a testing service that was located in an office park up near the mall. It's not like going to a place where there are 50 nervous kids sitting around. The testing service provides tests for all sorts of things. So it's kind of like going to a doctor's appointment.

You sit in a waiting room and then someone comes to bring the student to a computer in a cubicle. I forget how long the test was, but it didn't bother my son. He thought he did well, but I never saw the results.

To motivate him, we told him that he qualified to take the test based on the regular yearly testing at his (then) priate school. Actually, I found out from another parent because the school had decided to no longer tell parents that their child had qualified, even though the school was supposed to do so. When I asked the headmaster about it, he admitted that it caused them problems. Parents of kids who passed wanted them to accelerate and take the Johns Hopkins classes instead of their regular classes. I told him that the school could do whatever they wanted, but they should always tell the parents about the opportunity.

In any case, my son saw it as an honor. Also, if you passed, they hold an awards ceremony in each state for all of those who get in. So, my son passed and went to the ceremony. They gave a few extra awards to those who got the top marks, and then ...what?

Well, you get catalogs in the mail. We still get them even though I thought my son had to requalify each year. In fact, I think once they get to 7th grade the CTY requires the kids to take the SAT.

Others can give you more details, but the SAT is not tied to schools. We had a thread a while ago about a potential problem if ALL of your SAT test scores are sent to colleges, but I think that they now allow you to send only your best scores.

Taking the test was good. It gave him an idea of a test that is different than the yearly state school testing. As for the courses, they are expensive and at his level, my wife and I could supplement just fine. If there was a course that he really, really wanted to take, then we might have considered it.

Anonymous said...

They might have changed their rules, but I believe you can sign up your kid at any age. There is advice for when would be the best time, but at this point I don't think they bar you if you think your 12-yr. old is ready for it.

You might want to consider grabbing an ACT prep book and just having you child do a few of the subtests. They are very short taken one by one.

They are also eye-opening because, like Steve said, no one teaches these things directly. The ACT might be better because it is shorter and seems less "tricky." Fatigue is more significant with the younger child than a high-schooler.

Taking the test helped my son because it gave him an insight into what colleges were looking for. They really didn't care about his coloring after all.


concernedCTparent said...

I’ve been planning on having our kids take the Hopkins test in fifth grade also. How did it go? Good experience for your kid or miserable? Are you glad you did it?

Dave, My kids (9, 11) loved the SCAT. They actually described it as fun. My 11 year old said it was so much better than the state standardized tests which she describes as mind-numbingly boring. We plan on doing it again this year except this year the 11 year old will take either the ACT or the SAT instead of the SCAT. Like Steve, we haven't done any of the courses, but plan on taking advantage of some of the local field trips and outings this year if possible. The award ceremony for high honors was motivating for my children (it's nice to be recognized for academic effort/ability) and we met many interesting families at the reception. Since we homeschool, I used this as a baseline to track their growth.

concernedCTparent said...

He thought he did well, but I never saw the results.

I wonder if this was because it was through a private school. I received results and comparisons to other students who had taken the test. JHU sends an info packet that helps you understand the scores in a larger context.

SteveH said...

" may be quite a wake-up call!"

Our problem is that my son gets top grades at school in reading (whatever the heck that is) and language arts (same), but his state standardized test scores don't reflect that in the verbal section. I've seen sample questions and they don't look difficult to me. I talked with the principal at my son's school and she didn't think there was any problem at all. (He's a top student.) She thought that maybe any discrepancy had to do with the writing portion. That's OK? Of course, his test and grades are somewhere, but we can't see them. Great feedback loop.

I assume that they won't let parents see the test because they want to use the same questions many times. Actually, this is one of the reasons why my son's school hides big tests away in portfolios, never to come home. I don't understand this. Back when I taught college math and CS, I always created new tests. After each test, they would be graded and handed back permanently at the next class.

On top of this, the school (and the state) says that parents can use the results of state testing to help their kids. How? Tell my son to get better grades? Obviously, the school doesn't want to admit that there is a disconnect between what they are teaching and what is being tested. What makes it worse is that the state tests are so simple. Maybe something else is going on, but I can't figure it out.

I have a question that I think was answered before. Do high schools send the results of all state testing along with the grades and class rank to colleges?

OK. Let me rant a little again about the problem of statistics hiding problems. Some think that individual cases are just anecdotes to be rejected out-of-hand. That's only if you are trying to make sweeping generalizations. However, problems to be solved are not statistical problems. There are many different problems that can interact in complex ways. It is difficult or impossible to separate the problems statistically. Let's just say that I've seen few statistical studies that are good at isolating individual problems.

When you study individual cases, you have a chance to identify specific problems. If I got to see my son's actual test, I might determine that there is no real problem, or it might lead me to understand one specific problem that the school can fix. Anyone who has programmed knows what this is about. You run a program and things go wrong. You don't apply statistics or guess and check (the favorite one of my old students) to fix the program, you select just one wrong number and painstakingly work backwards to the cause. You have to keep doing this over and over and over.

In education, many want to study statistics to find a solution. This leads to simple "just one thing" type solutions, like all we need are good teachers. If you work backward from very specific problems, then you are more likely to accurately figure out and fix one thing.

When our state does testing in math, it breaks problems into areas like "problem solving". This is turned into a proficiency index. Everything is converted from absolute to relative and the only tool they have for fixing problems is guessing. They actually had parent-teacher meetings at our school to figure out how to improve the school's problem solving proficiency statistic. I would take that number and work backward to the raw data, but nobody knows exactly how that number is calculated. Still, they sit around and figure out how to fix it. Spend more time on problem solving.

RMD said...

to one of SteveH's points . . . are there good standardized tests that we can give our kids to determine where they are on the spectrum, and address any weak points?

Anonymous said...


The only reason I even decided on taking the ACT was because my son's state test score percentile in math was lower than kids two or three years behind him. What annoyed me was that I knew that they made placement decisions based on those percentiles. His reading was all over the place in grade school, but seemed rather high in middle school. Still, it dropped quite a bit on the last one.

Of course, everyone tried to reassure me, but I felt like I could have been told that nope, he didn't do as well as we like to see, so he's going back to the lower class. He did make the 95th percentile which I normally wouldn't have cared about, but I later found out about kids that made the 99th percentile who weren't in pre-algebra yet.

And even still, I got pushback for doing it. One math teacher said with a rather cold tone, "Why would you want to do that?" Yet, in gifted magnet schools 2/3rds or more of the kids are expected to take the ACT/SAT throughout middle school.

Yet, I've had to pull out those scores a few times to advocate for him. First with the private school we were considering for him, and later with the high school for taking honors bio early. They don't have a ceiling like the state tests, and so they seem to garner more respect.

I do think that bright kids often overthink certain questions on these state tests. They think they're being tricked because the question seems to easy.


SteveH said...

"I've had to pull out those scores a few times to advocate for him."

Good point. It helped that I had the SCAT results when my son came back to our public schools in 6th grade. It helped him skip 6th grade EM!

"...overthink certain questions ..."

If I could see the actual test, I could tell right away. It could also signal a big gap.

I've also gotten funny reactions (from parents too) becuase I've shown concern even though he is a top student. I once had to rely on one of their arguments about meeting the needs of ALL students. I can just imagine the reaction I would get if the school (or other parents) knew that I was going to have him take the SAT in 8th grade.

concernedCTparent said...

RMD- ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) is pretty popular. Catherine has used this. It's a nationally normed test that is used by many private schools and homeschoolers. It would at a minimum provide a baseline that if administered regularly would gauge growth in particular areas (assuming the ceiling isn't too low- you may consider starting grade level(s) higher).

PhysicistDave said...

SusanS, SteveH, and concernedCTparent,

Thanks for your information on the SAT and the SCAT tests.

It sounds as if my own thoughts about our kids – the SCAT test in fifth grade and the SAT in eighth grade – are not far out of line with what some people here have actually done.

By the way, I hope it is clear that I am not claiming that my kids are “gifted,” much less geniuses in some sense. They are scoring well beyond grade level, and, since we are homeschooling, I am concerned about testing issues and interested to know others’ experience.

However, I am a bit skeptical of the whole “giftedness” meme. It seems to me that Mozart may truly have been gifted in some sense that normal human beings are not. But I am not sure that I would use a special term for kids who are clearly well above average academically but not obviously beyond the normal range of variation in the way that Mozart was.

Of course, I think that even average students should be taught in a way and exposed to material that most Americans would dub fit only for “gifted” children…


SteveH said...

"I hope it is clear that I am not claiming that my kids are 'gifted,'"

KTM advocates for kids at all levels. If I recall, we have had discussions about how some remedial math programs are so much better than the fuzzy G&T programs. At our school, they use phonics as a remedial tool.

I have caught myself at times downplaying the abilities of my son. There is also a meme that parents shouldn't try to make their kids into super students. There is also a meme that says that you need to let kids be kids. You don't have to apologize here for expecting the most from your kids and pushing to get it, at whatever level they are at.

I think most of us at KTM believe that if you fix the problems of curriculum, teaching methods, and expectations, the issues of G&T would be minimized and everyone will have access to a good education.

VickyS said...

Dave, I read this long thread about out of level testing and wanted to chime it. You mentioned you are a homeschooler and this works to your advantage. Check out Center for Talent Development website at Northwestern University. As a homeschooler, you just nominate and certify your own child as being qualifed to take the appropriate standardized tests. I'm not looking at the website right now but your options are something like this:

Grades 3-6 Explore Test (a grade 8 test)

Grades 6-9 ACT (with or w/o writing)

Grades 6-8 SAT (writing req'd)

I really recommend signing up through this program. The testing centers are the same as for the high school kids, but they put all the young testers in the same room, they have specially identifiable registration forms, etc. Then CTY provides you with not only the scores, but some great information as to how to use them, whether your child might benefit eventually from grade acceleration or early entrance to high school, etc. And it's not much more expensive than just registering for the tests by themselves.

I can't stress enough that it's great to use this program rather than wandering around, on the internet, at the high schools or whatever, trying to do it yourself.

As an example, I registered my older son (now a junior) for the following:

Explore-grades 5 and 6 (through CTY)
ACT-grades 7/8 and 9 (w/o writing) (through CTY)

SAT-grade 10 (not through CTY b/c he was too old, but registration directly through the College Board website)

PSAT-grades 9 and 10 (through his school, they let you register if they had extra tests).

I wanted him to do the SAT at least once prior to junior/senior year so he could see the writing. It was by far his worst part. Same with the AP test he took last year.

I highly recommend this approach! We have not used any prep material at all; he's taken them cold. But that by itself is good preparation I think.

Plus, as I mentioned on an earlier thread, the first time he took the ACT he only got through half of the reading section and we discovered he had a visual processing problem. One year of vision therapy followed. The next time, voila, made it all the way through and did very well. Because it only appeared during an intensive test of long duration, we would never have found this otherwise!

PhysicistDave said...

Thanks, Vicky, that’s helpful information.

As I suggested in my comment to SteveH, I am struggling a bit in interactions in the real world with the fact that my kids are accelerated well beyond grade level, even thoughI know that does not make them geniuses. If you say, “My kid is a fourth-grader, but he performs at an eighth-grade level according to standardized tests,” that sounds like you’re bragging (and it doesn’t help any in talking to other parents to say that the eighth-grade work is so dumbed down that bright fourth-graders *should* be able to do it!).

And, of course, we are not just blindly doing some upper-grade-level curriculum, since the main reason we are homeschooling is to *avoid* the public-school textbooks and curriculum.

Anyway, thanks for the info.


Anonymous said...


We have kids all over the map here at KTM. My oldest is special ed, and now I'm gearing up for all of the "Where's he going to college?" questions. I know I'm going to enjoy those at least as much as I enjoy standardized test results coming in the mail with "ACADEMIC WARNING" all over them.

I think the problem is when your kid falls out of the curriculum. No one blinked at my oldest being 2+ years behind other kids. They dealt with it. Of course, it helps to have the ADA in your back pocket.

But, when your kid is 2+ years ahead of the curriculum, they often act as though the problem is yours when it really is only about appropriate placement. I'm sure you know how much aggravation you have saved yourself in homeschooling.

To add to what Vicki said--the 4 universities with talent searches do give a lot of info back for the $30-$40 they add to the cost of the test. They also show you where your child ranked with other same age children taking the test that day in each subject, which would be a higher level group, not the general population.

It helped to know what the average scores were for each age group, too. I believe Northwestern had told me that the average 13-year old ACT reading score was 19, and the average math score was 17, so my son treated it as a goal to beat those averages.


PhysicistDave said...

SusanS wrote to me:
>I'm sure you know how much aggravation you have saved yourself in homeschooling.

Yeah, I think so. Four years ago, I ran into the son of some friends of ours shortly after his school was out: he was then in second grade. He was looking kind of down, and I mentioned to him that he looked rather tired.

He replied, “Yeah, I’m tired of spending the whole day listening to stuff I already know!”

I’ve known him since he was four: a bright kid, well-behaved, serious. His parents are well-educated and involved.

He gets good grades, of course, because he is bright and wants to please adults.

But he is still clearly not challenged. I think he is growing resigned to it and has just decided that this is one of the many strange things that adults impose upon children.

It kind of breaks my heart: his parents and I do keep exchanging information, and they do, to some degree, “afterschool” him. But, they cannot figure out how to get the school to challenge him.

I suppose this is a rather familiar story to everyone here.

Yeah, I am glad my kids have never had to deal with that (although I had to myself as a child – one reason I am sympathetic to this kid now).

Thanks again for the info on testing.


RMD said...

"However, I am a bit skeptical of the whole “giftedness” meme. It seems to me that Mozart may truly have been gifted in some sense that normal human beings are not. But I am not sure that I would use a special term for kids who are clearly well above average academically but not obviously beyond the normal range of variation in the way that Mozart was."

You should take a look at "Talent is Overrated". Scholars have looked at Mozart's life and it seems to follow almost all great performers: tons of time practicing with outstanding teachers and a passion for whatever they were doing (see also "The Talent Code" book)

Mozart's dad was the preeminent music teacher of the day. Many of Mozart's early works were "rewritten" in his dad's hand. By the time he was in his early 20s, he had been writing music in some form for 20 years .. . the amount of time it takes for an expert to start contributing to his/her own field.

Can everyone be a Mozart? I read somewhere that in the world swimming finals, there are all types of body shapes in the races leading up to the finals, but by the finals, they all have a body shape like Michael Phelps. So I'm guessing that we can achieve extraordinary things without having a natural "gift" in whatever area of study, but to reach the top of the heap, we need both because it just gets so competitive.

ElizabethB said...


We homeschool, too.

I give my daughter the IOWA test every year, currently 1 grade level above her grade level. Eventually, I may move up to 2 or 3 grade levels above.

You can give it on your own in you have a degree (which I would think would come with being a physicist!)

I like giving in myself because I can see which questions she misses and why.

For example, on the 1st grade test last year, she did better on the reading comprehension questions for longer, harder stories that she found more interesting than the shorter, easier stories that she found boring! I would never have figured that out if she took it with someone else. This year, before the test, I told her about the importance of reading even the boring stories closely and answering the boring questions well. (The stories were a bit better this year, but still a bit stupid and well below her reading level.)

PhysicistDave said...

RMD wrote to me:
>So I'm guessing that we can achieve extraordinary things without having a natural "gift" in whatever area of study, but to reach the top of the heap, we need both because it just gets so competitive.

Yeah. People do of course do differ in innate ability; presumably this is partly genetic.

I have a friend in her late thirties who has a “learning disability,” probably due to oxygen deprivation during birth. She is barely able to read at a first-grade level, and can only do very simple arithmetic (and both of those skills are due to many years of hard work by herself and her mother). She could never learn calculus.

Part of what does bother me about the “giftedness” meme is that it seems to ignore the enormous amount of hard work that even someone like Mozart or Michael Phelps had to put in to achieve what they achieved. No doubt Phelps and Mozart were born with greater talent in their fields than most of us have, and their innate talent probably also helped motivate them to put in all the work that they put in. However, their talent would have amounted to very little had they not put in enormous amounts of effort. And, if most of us put in that kind of effort in their fields, yeah, we’d probably be pretty good, too, even though not at their level.

I think way too often there is a “Well-I-just-wasn’t-born-with-a-talent-for-that” attitude that is used to excuse not making a serious effort at math, expository writing, etc. That can cause people of normal, or even superior, innate intelligence to end up performing way below their potential.

Thanks for your suggestions on Mozart: child prodigies have always intrigued me. I don’t expect my kids to be Mozart (in fact, they’re already too old – his musical ability at a very young age was beyond theirs today). But it is interesting to explore what it takes to reach truly exceptional levels of achievement.


PhysicistDave said...

ElizabethB wrote to me:
>You can give [the Iowa test] on your own in you have a degree (which I would think would come with being a physicist!)

Yeah, I have a Ph.D. from Stanford (in physics, of course). I assume I do not have to have an Ed degree?

Our kids do take our state’s NCLB test (the California STAR test), since we are signed up with a charter school that supports homeschooling families. That does give them some practice with test-taking, but the STAR test has a very low ceiling – it is meant mainly to catch the kids who are way below the norm. And, some of the questions on the STAR (they release some questions from past years) are not very well constructed.

Our kids always score “advanced,” but that really does not tell you much, except that they paid attention during the test.


ElizabethB said...


You're way overqualified! You just need any undergrad degree, it can even be in basket weaving or modern studies or what have you.

A few of the questions are poorly worded and/or constructed, the whole social studies section has mostly really strange questions, but overall it's not a bad test, and I like the option to test your child with any grade level you wish. (Once they hit the upper grade ceilings of high school, you could switch to practice SAT tests, they correlate well to the actual test--well, they and the GRE tests did years ago when I took them!)

My daughter got several "wrong" on the phonics portion that I consider poorly written, her answers were actually correct, but the answers agree with how phonics is taught in the schools.