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Timed Math Tests in First Grade?

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My first-grader maintained a B average in math up until recently. His grades have dramatically decreased since his teacher gave two timed math tests and counted them as major test grades. My son was asked to solve 20 addition/subtraction facts in one minute. He was unable to complete all the problems in that time frame. The few that he did complete were correct.

I talked to the teacher about my concern, and she indicated that she has to give timed tests. But when I looked through the first grade curriculum, I found nothing that related to timed tests. I think the teacher's policy is a bit harsh for first grade and should be eliminated. After all, what is the point? Does the teacher want to know how fast the children can work or if they can solve the problems? I am concerned that my son's math grades will continue to fall if this practice of timed tests is continued. What are your views?

A: While timed math tests are not mentioned in the curriculum guide for your son's school, they are a way for teachers to find out if their students have mastered basic math facts. This is very important today when teachers and schools are expected to have students meet certain standards.

If your son had been able to complete the 20 problems in one minute, he would have demonstrated that he had a mastery of the facts on the timed test. A child is considered to have learned a math fact when he can give an answer in less than 3 seconds.

It would appear that your son is not yet ready for timed tests. He needs additional time to learn more about addition and subtraction and to develop fact strategies. At this point, he should be encouraged to talk a lot about how addition and subtraction work and to use models from coins to buttons to describe simple math facts such as 5+1 and 5-1.

Your son may fall back on the inefficient, but reliable, method of counting to find the answer if the teacher continues to pressure him to recall facts rapidly at this time. He should only be expected to increase his speed when he has developed a strategy for handling a related set of facts such as adding one more to a number.

Speed does play a role in getting children to memorize math facts. Help your child by working faster and faster through a set of flash cards for a single strategy such as 1+1, 2+1, 3+1... or 1+2, 2+2, 3+2... When he doesn't know an answer, have him use markers to find it. Use lots of repetition to build his speed and confidence.

More on: Expert Advice

Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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