Getting stuck in Rocket Math–A solution

A teacher asks:
We have several students that are highly skilled in the math area but are also on the borders of perfectionism. They are having difficulty passing the writing “40” goal even though they all did more than that on their “Writing Speed Test.” They easily pass when they say them orally. What would be your recommendation to do with these students or tell their parents? The classroom teacher is willing to listen to each one of them to see if they can pass all levels on just one oral try but really doesn’t want all students or parents to start expecting this. He says these students are truly some of his top students (95th % on state standards).

Dr. Don answers:
Thanks for letting me know about their results in the Writing Speed test, and the fact that they can answer over 40 problems in one minute orally. This is clearly an example of my nice clean theory meeting the mess of reality. There is no logical reason why students who know the facts well enough to pass orally AND who have the handwriting skills to write the answers are not able to pass the written tests. It doesn’t make sense to hold them back from moving along and learning more facts if they are automatic with the facts–as demonstrated by the oral test on each level. The point of the Daily One Minute tests is to find out if the students know the facts without hesitation. If you know that is the case, you want to move them along to learn more facts, BUT…..
You want a policy that encourages students to pass the written test if they can at all, because that is more efficient and more fair. On the other hand you don’t want to hold students back completely if they really know the facts without hesitation.

Here is a possible policy that will balance the two. If a student feels he or she really knows a level, after two tries in class that student can choose to stay after school (or in at recess or come in early) and take another test with the teacher. [This allows the teacher to watch the student take the written test to see if there are any maladaptive behaviors such as erasing answers or skipping around that are causing the problem.] Then if the student doesn’t pass on the written test, the teacher can then listen to the student orally say the answers and if the student answers more than 40 problems in a minute, award the level as passed. One level at a time.
The students still have to try in class two days and try once more after class, but then can move on if they really know the facts. This puts some of the burden on the students.  We want to be sure they aren’t just doing it orally because it is easier and gives them more attention. This two tries policy gives them an opportunity to save themselves some time if they can pass in writing, but ensures that they move along as they need to academically. It also allows the teacher to watch the written testing to see what is going on there.  I think it will seem fair to the other students (who are passing in writing) because these students are not getting a special pass–instead they are having to come in on their own time to do this.
As I noted in another post it is extremely important to preserve the value of doing the work to pass the levels in Rocket Math. The work and the level playing field makes the whole exercise of Rocket Math meaningful and valuable. Don’t let anyone pass levels without doing the practice and taking the tests on each level. Otherwise you make the other students feel like dopes for having to work at it when others get it for “free.”

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