Monday, December 3, 2007

Speed (part II): The Speed of Disappointment

Max Zorin: Would you prefer stamina…or speed?
James Bond: I think a little bit of both…
- from the movie, A View to a Kill. (They were discussing a business transaction involving a racehorse.)

My son brought home a “D” on a math test last week. He wasn’t happy with himself and thought we might be angry. We weren’t, just disappointed. Andrew is an “A” math student. It’s his best subject. His reading challenges make the word problems difficult, but he can do numerical calculations.

We haven’t always held this view of Andrew’s math abilities. When he first started taking standardized exams, he would test below the scale in reading. Surprisingly, he would test on the scale in math. When I saw the results of Andrew’s first math scores, I insisted that the school add math help to the services he was getting. The exchange surprised both sides:

“But math is one of his strengths!”

“One standard deviation below the norm isn’t a strength for anybody!”

The teachers agreed and math help was added to his services at school. We started working on it more at home. And Andrew started getting better. With the combined efforts he was getting, Andrew improved in all of his subjects. However, he started excelling in math. Testing at the start of this year estimated his abilities somewhere in fifth grade, not bad for a 4th grader.

So, the “D” surprised us. However, what surprised us more were the mistakes he made. Word problems still gave him fits, but he made calculation errors. These troubled us, as we know he can do the work. Andrew knows it, too. This isn’t his first “D” this school year. He brought one home on a previous math test…and he made calculation errors there, too.

Part of the reason for these errors, we feel, is that Andrew has to complete the test in a certain amount of time. He can do the work, but it takes him longer than other kids. In the past, he has gotten extra time on tests. However, the amount of work he is getting in 4th grade dwarfs any year he has had before and we are pushing him to meet the same requirements the other kids are meeting.

So, with him taking a long time to do the tests anyway, he has very little time to check his work. My wife and I are working on that with him, trying to improve his speed. However, we also explaining the need for him to check his work.

A child with special needs, like any other child, has strengths and weaknesses. As parents, you work hard to help them grow with all of them. As I explained earlier, Andrew thought we would be angry. However, we were only disappointed. “Disappointment” is a concept that is difficult for Andrew to grasp, but getting this “D” and seeing our reaction may have finally helped him understand it.

Amazing, though, is the fact that we were disappointed at all. A few years ago, he was one standard deviation below the norm. Now, at least in one subject, we have the luxury of being disappointed when he doesn’t bring home an “A.”

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