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Dear Teacher


Right- or Left-handed, Math Story Problem Help and What Norm-Referenced Tests Will Tell You


Your Questions of Teachers Answered



101793288
February 01, 2011
>What Norm-referenced Tests Will Tell You

Question: Recently, my third-grader was given what is called a norm-referenced test. She scored in the 95th percentile overall. The teacher was really pleased with my child's score and said that the child should be in the Gifted & Talented program. Is this an accurate measure of my child's ability? Exactly what is a norm-referenced test? - Smart Kid

Answer: A norm-referenced test measures one person's score against the scores of a group of people who have already taken the test. Your daughter was not compared to all the students who have taken this test but to this norming group.

The purpose of norm-referenced tests is to compare students' scores. For example, your child's score indicates that she scored higher than 95 percent of the test takers in the norming group. The test is designed so that most students score near the middle. Only a few, like your daughter, receive high scores. On the other hand, there are also few low scores.

Your daughter is probably a very bright little girl. However, all tests have measurement error. Your daughter's 95th percentile is an estimate. Some tests results are reported in score bands showing the range within which the test taker's "true" score probably lies. And do remember that what was on the test is only a sample of a whole subject area. Plus, getting one or more questions right or wrong can result in a fairly large change in a student's score, especially sub-scores.

You should be pleased that your daughter can be in a Gifted & Talented program. Norm-referenced tests are often used for this purpose. If this is the only criterion for admission to such a program, some qualified children will be kept out.

Your daughter will take many norm-referenced tests during her school days. Most college admissions tests fall into this category, as well as such widely used tests as the California Achievement Test, the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Stanford Achievement Test.

A Help in Solving Math Story Problems

Question: I have found that many children can't solve story problems because they can't visualize the numbers. They are too big for them. This difficulty first appears in second grade, and if it's not addressed early, it just gets worse as they go up in the grades.

Here's my way to handle big numbers in story problems: If the problem has three numbers, have them substitute 2 for the smallest, 6 for the largest, and 3 for the other. If four numbers are used, they should substitute 2 for the smallest, 12 for the largest, and 3 and 6 for the others. By using these numbers, the answer always comes out even with no remainders.

Many times, students get the answer but don't know how they did it. Perhaps it's just intuition. By writing the equation and their answer, the students can figure what process they used to get there. Then they can substitute the original numbers in the equation and get the correct answer.

For example, if John is going from Miami to Naples, a distance of 150 miles, and traveling at 50 miles an hour, how long will it take him to get there? Because the numbers are large, students can be thrown by this. If the students substitute 6 for 150 miles, and 2 for 50, the answer (3) becomes apparent and so does the process (division). So they would write 150 divided by 50. - Math Teacher

Answer: Try this technique with your children when they are having difficulty with story problems. It is quite helpful. Young children who are just learning how to solve story problems can also draw pictures or use hands-on materials so that they can see a problem. And remember this, the more practice your children have in solving story problems, the more successful they will become. If their teacher only assigns the even problems, have them do the odds, too.

Is My Child Right- or Left-handed?

Question: We're still not sure if our child who is going to preschool soon is right- or left-handed. Is there any quick and easy way to determine this? He uses his left hand for most tasks. - Lefty

Answer: There's no quick and easy way to determine completely and accurately if your child is left- or right-handed. Usually, a child favors one hand over the other by the age of 3.

Many of us use different hands for different tasks throughout our lives. And this includes children. However, a task, like handwriting, that takes a lot of practice is usually done by a preferred hand. And we guess that this is your concern.

Just observing your child might not give you the answer to which hand your child prefers. However, you'll get an idea by noticing which hand is used to throw balls, fit puzzle pieces or hold a spoon. If you want to be a bit more scientific, measure the difference in accuracy and time for him to put pegs in holes using each hand.

Parents should send questions and comments to dearteacher@dearteacher.com or ask them on the columnists' Web site at www.dearteacher.com.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts have master's degrees in education and specialist degrees (Ed.S.) in reading. Peggy recently completed her doctorate in special education and educational leadership. Together, they have co-authored more than 70 books and in 2003, Peggy formed the not-for-profit foundation, Literacy Plus, to make literacy accessible to the homeless.

Tags: Education

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