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Why Math Issues?

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The Tennessee Virtual Academy’s T-cap scores for the 2013-2014 school year have been released, and one thing has become very clear: the area in which Virtual Academy students are performing the lowest is math. While test scores in general are still in need of improvement, the subject area that is most difficult for virtual students appears to be math.

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Why?

Math is one of the hardest subjects to teach virtually. Think back to your classes in a brick and mortar school. How did your math teacher teach you? More than likely, she stood up at the front of the room and worked out problems—it might have been on a projector screen, or a white board, or a blackboard; but somehow, in some way, that teacher took the time to work out individual problems to show you how to work them. Step by step, she talked through each of the processes, making sure that you understood where each answer was coming from.

This is something that the virtual academy has been addressing through an increase in class connect sessions, and is one of the reasons why regular attendance in those sessions is so important. Through live sessions, students have the ability to listen to their teacher as she both talks through and displays how to work math problems that they might otherwise have trouble understanding. It also helps if learning coaches make sure that their students are taking the time to listen to the materials presented within the online lessons.

Students across the state are also struggling with math. This is particularly concentrated in the Shelby County area, which is renowned for low test scores—and makes up a large portion of TNVA’s enrollment. If students are already having trouble with math, they aren’t going to magically learn how to do it just because they’ve been transported to a new school.

Math standards have been increasing rapidly. What was once high school math is now being presented in middle school. Elementary school students are expected to understand math concepts that were formerly taught in middle school. The effort to shift to these higher standards means that more students are going to fall behind faster, especially since they’re often rushed through foundation lessons in order to move on to the more complicated types of math.

Rote memorization is no longer expected. Once, students in third grade were expected to know their times tables on command. Now, it is assumed that they will be able to use a calculator for that, so they skip straight on over those lessons. If they do memorize them—great! If they don’t…well, they don’t really need it. They just need to understand the concept.

Unfortunately, this leads to students who are ill-prepared to handle the challenges that they will meet as they reach higher level math classes—and students who aren’t prepared to put their skills to good use.

Math scores will likely improve again this year, as new programs are implemented and students work hard to improve their performance. The lower incidence of first-year students this year will also help to improve TNVA math scores.

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