Why raise student goals for passing?

A parent asks:
Why does the teacher keep raising our daughter’s goal every time she does better on a test? She now has a higher goal than any other child in her class, and she can’t pass in one or two days like she used to. She is getting discouraged. Is this fair? Is this what you recommend?

Dr. Don answers:
Yes, this is what I recommend. I explain the recommendation on the Rocket Math FAQs page, item K, “What do I do about fast writers, slow writers, and do goals ever change?”

Your daughter’s teacher is following the directions which do say to raise student’s goals when they demonstrate the ability to write faster.  Two things tell me it is a good idea for the teacher to raise your daughter’s goal.
1) Before her goals was raised, your daughter was passing much faster than we would like.  Remember, the goal of Rocket Math is that students should know these facts by heart for the rest of their lives, so extra practice is a good deal.  Students who learn an operation in one semester (about 90 school days) are learning as fast as is necessary–and that is practicing for 3 to 4 days on each set of facts before passing. Tell your daughter that you don’t want her to pass until she has practiced for at least three days.  Help her to be patient and be willing to practice a bit longer.
2) Your daughter has demonstrated she can write faster than we initially thought.  We begin by setting individualized goals based on the writing speed test.  When students demonstrate the ability to write faster, we raise their goals.   The goal is to for students to practice until they know the facts instantly, without any hesitation.
If a student can write faster, but has lower goals, that student can be hesitant on some facts, and still pass.  This is not good, because they won’t get as much practice on those facts as they should have.  Eventually after passing several levels even though the new facts were not fully mastered, the student hits the wall.  They are too slow on a bunch of facts, and there are too many now to be learned.  (We can’t learn ten or more similar things at the same time.)  This is when students get stuck and can no longer move ahead.  This is not good.  To prevent this we need students to answer all the facts as fast as they can write.  That means if the student demonstrates the ability to write faster than we initially thought, the student should be expected to answer facts at a faster rate than we initially expected.  This varies by student, as some students can write much faster than others.
To ensure that students are answering fact questions as fast as their fingers can carry them, we encourage teachers to raise the goals closer to what students have actually done.  As long as students can still pass in fewer than six days, that is acceptable and better for them than passing every day.  Students who pass every day aren’t getting as much practice as we’d like.
Once students have goals over 40 however, the rules change.  More on that in another post.

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