Midway through our summer class in Cupertino, when we asked our students whether they wanted to be tested through a weekly contest (like the numerous contest-focused math programs in the area), everyone resoundingly voted “No!”. When asked why, the main reason they offered was that they wanted the class to continue to be “fun” and not be “spoiled”. In an article published earlier this year, Jo Boaler, professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University, points to the negative impact of administering timed tests to children to assess their mathematics fluency. A summary of the article –

1. Timed tests, used for assessing math fluency, cause math anxiety in many.

2. They produce the impression that math is all about good performance (equated with fast performance) in tests, and not about learning and enjoyment.

3. Many slow but deep thinkers turn away from math, discouraged, even though deep thinking is important in the discipline of mathematics, while speed is irrelevant.

4. Math anxiety, being a form of stress, blocks working memory, which hinders the recall of important facts in timed tests, leading to underachievement, and possibly more math anxiety.

5. Math anxiety affects not only low achievers, but also high achievers.

6. “Number talks” (an example of which is given in the article) are a good alternative to timed tests, helping students develop math fluency without the negative pressure of speed, and helping them develop “number sense”.

Read the full article at http://www.youcubed.org/pdfs/nctm-timed-tests.pdf