Why I Was In The Bottom Two-Threes of All Students

Why I Was In The Bottom Two-Threes of All Students

Op-Ed: New test scores show students lost a lot of ground in the pandemic. Overreacting won’t help.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a math whiz. I was a high school mathlete at a small public school in a rural community in the South. In math courses, I always came in near the top, always beating my grade point average by a half a letter. But when I took the ACT college readiness test on the recommendation of the guidance counselor, I was in the bottom two-thirds of all students nationwide.

Why was I in the bottom two-thirds? I had the most challenging math teacher in the school. She was a whiz of a teacher, and she expected me to do just about everything in math. She did things like make math memorization flash cards. She got a little flustered when I tried to explain the concept of exponents by writing it out. She had me memorize this one equation by giving me a flash card.

At the school where I taught, there was a math teacher who was like that. I was frustrated by her overreaction and I told my parents. It was obvious to both of us that she was not a good math teacher.

We could never have gotten a better math teacher at my old school, but I also understood from that experience that I needed to take more responsibility for determining what work I was going to do in math.

The idea of a “Math Club” or a “Mathlete in Training” or, heaven forbid, a “mathlete” became a running joke or something my parents told me over and over again. I always figured it was just a dumb idea, but it turned out I was wrong in some sense.

I realized that I had been doing some math wrong. And I wanted desperately to correct the wrong I had done in my life.

It was a long time before I figured out that the “math error” I was always making was my tendency to believe that I knew exactly what I needed to do in math and that the guidance counselor who had recommended the

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