Why would I want to give the Placement Probes?
You want to give the Placement Probes if you think there is a chance that some of your students have already memorized some of the facts in the operation in which you are about to have them start. For example, a second grade teacher might suspect (or hope!) that some of her students have learned some of the addition facts in first grade. She wants them fluent on all the addition facts before beginning them on subtraction. (That doesn’t ring a bell? Go back and read the section, “When are students ready to begin fact memorization in an operation?”) If some of the children have memorized some of the addition facts already, they can skip some of the sets of addition facts. After the teacher finishes doing her “happy dance,” she/he will realize that this will save time and allow the students to move along faster. The teacher would want to use the Placement Probes to see who can skip some sets of facts.
These placement tests are optional however. The alternative is to have all your students start at the beginning with Set A. We would not recommend using the “placement” test in situations where few of the students have had opportunities to practice memorization of math facts, or to practice memorization of the facts within the operation in which you are beginning. Starting children at the beginning of the operation will not slow them down much. When children already know some facts, they will usually pass those sheets on the first try. Children who are moving along, passing one sheet a day, soon find themselves on sheets that require some study.
For example, a first grade teacher beginning math facts memorization for the first time would not need to use the Placement Probes because those students are completely new to the idea of memorizing math facts. So you want to give the Placement Probes if you think some students may not need to start at the beginning of the operation — and you are in a hurry to move them along. Students who are not tested and start at the beginning of an operation in which they know some of the facts will master each sheet in a day and quickly move up to the set on which they need to work. So if you can afford a few days it would be a good idea to skip the Placement Probes and start all your students at the beginning. We have done it both ways and we recommend this strategy if possible.
How do I use the Placement Probes?
Each of the Placement Probes is a mini-test (15 seconds in length…Yes, you read that right. 15 seconds!) of a part of each operation. The Placement Probes for each operation can be found at the beginning of each operation. There are four probes for each operation. This means that each operation has only four places in which you can start the students. The Placement Probes will help you place students beyond the beginning of the sequence of facts. This would be a good thing, no? Students who do not pass the first test in an operation would begin at Set A in the beginning of the operation. For each mini-test that a student passes the student is able to skip practicing those sets.
It is especially imperative that students do not begin writing on the placement tests until you say “Go” and that they discontinue writing answers immediately upon “Stop.” (We believe this is true of ALL timings, but especially the placement test timings.) If you cannot get your students to abide by the starting and stopping times, the scores will be useless and the placement will be incorrect. If you have this problem (students starting early or continuing to mark answers after time is up) then these students (or all students) will need to either start at Set A, or be tested in small groups where compliance with the time restraints can be assured.
Because the tests are so short, there is not much time for frustration. Therefore it is OK to have everyone try all parts and then score them later. You could have students exchange papers and grade them in class if you are feeling especially lucky that day.