Why an A or B in Math Doesn't Always Equal Math Mastery

May 11, 2017 | Novi

You may be surprised to hear that grades don’t always accurately reflect what level of math mastery the students have. A child might raise his grade to an A or a B in math from participating in class, doing extra credit, or handing in their homework (which often isn’t even checked). These are all important and they help toward understanding math, but they don’t automatically lead to math mastery. When grades are mistaken for an actual level of math mastery, children may end up in math classes that are too advanced for their level of understanding. This may cause frustration, which could lead to a downward spiral of poor performance and hating math.

Math classes build on the concepts from previous levels. Children who master the skills and concepts are set up for success for future math classes. Students who only have a superficial understanding before advancing are likely to experience frustration. Eventually the divide between their level of mastery and the skills they are learning will become big enough that their grades will start to suffer.

The most common times for this to be highlighted are when students transition from one level of school to the next, such as elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. With each of these transitions the expectations of student independence and knowledge increases. If there is a lack of mastery, this can create more problems and frustration for the student.


Let’s look at an example.


If the top grade would be labeled “completely mastered” It would indicate the student:

  • Applies concepts appropriately to solve all or most practical problems
  • Knows when and how to apply different solutions
  • Explains why the formulas work and understand their derivation
  • Can explain or teach to others several approaches to solving various problems
  • Can create their own problems demonstrating how to use the methods learned


What an “A” could actually represent:

  • Completes all of their homework and turns it in on time
  • Successfully complete problems from the homework and text book that mirror examples
  • Improves their grade using retests
  • Uses extra credit to improve a grade on a test or assignment
  • Mastered some of the material but unable to apply them to problems having some variation


How do you know if your child’s A’s and B’s actually represent mastery?

Ask your child to explain to you what they are learning in math class. Ask lots of “why?” questions. Students who can explain why they use particular steps to solve problems probably understand the concepts. If they say, “I don’t know why I do that” or “my teacher told me to do it this way!” then they probably need some help.

Or you can also have your child complete an independent assessment, similar to what the Mathnasium Method™ employs, which focuses on math level, rather than grade level. This is a very thorough assessment combining oral discussion with written portions that cover a broad range of concepts spanning across a number of grade level expectations. This process will identify the gaps where your child needs help, as well as what they already know well.  From this a plan can be created to focus only on the areas of need and not waste time rifling through problems that are already mastered.


Yikes! My child doesn’t have Math Mastery.

If after doing some of the above and you find it’s time to take action, don’t panic --  bring them to Mathnasium.

If there are any gaps, get your child the help they need. Summer is the perfect time to address this.  Schools are out of session and there are no conflicts with assignments, tests, or homework.  This allows total focus on getting those gaps filled. Enroll in one of our very flexible Summer Programs and get your child ready and confident for next year.

Our Center Director, Jennifer Kakaley, will answer all your questions about our Mathnasium programs to help your child master the material and get grades that actually reflect mastery. Call Jennifer today at 248-679-4448.


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