Math grades in middle school are inflated. The teachers are very supportive, and the kids have multiple opportunities to retake tests. This is a good thing, and I’m not dogging middle school teachers. They have a lead role in laying the foundation for upper level math.

When I begin with a student, we always go over their current grade. For middle schoolers, I take their class average and deduct five to ten points off the top to get a better picture of where they are. If your child has a low B or C, then they need help. Anything below a C, and your child is in crisis. They are missing fundamentals and need help assessing their weaknesses.

Elementary school taught the basics – math facts, fractions, and decimals. Middle school begins a more rigorous application of these skills. In addition, fundamental concepts are introduced – integers, algebraic expressions and functions, linear functions, quadratic functions, and the basics of geometry. These concepts are the foundation for higher maths. If they fail to grasp any of them, then it will come back to haunt them. And in high school, the grades stay with them, impacting their GPA. The time to course correct is middle school.

Pay attention to how long it takes them to complete their homework. If it takes more than an hour, then there is a problem. These kids are at risk of quitting their homework all together. While parents may think their child is lazy, I would argue many of them are so discouraged they give up. Homework is a punishment because even when they attempt it they aren’t getting it. And as one concept builds on the next, in a matter of days, they are left behind. Imagine sitting in a class every day and feeling hopelessly lost and stupid, like the teacher is speaking in a language you can’t understand. It’s boring and humiliating, and they fall even further behind. It is a vicious cycle, and they need help to break out of it.

Middle school is the time when many parents struggle to help their kids with math. It’s just been too long since they used some of these concepts. Moreover, I know from personal experience working with your own child can be difficult. There is a history between the two of you that can get in the way of meaningful learning.
Coming next week: The warning signs for high school students