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January 2020


Some years ago I read a math teacher’s syllabus that stated how their seventh grade Saxon math class would be graded. The syllabus stated that the grading scale would be the standard 90-100 A; 80-89 B; 70-79 C; 60-69 D; 59 and below was failing. The syllabus then explained that 10% of the student’s grade would be awarded for class participation and timely submission of the daily work.  Accuracy of the daily work comprised another 40% of the student’s grade, and test grades comprised the remaining 50% of the student’s overall grade.

What this means is that a student who does not understand the material, reflected by weekly test grades in the 50’s, but who has enough initiative to copy his friend’s homework paper via the telephone, email, or other means – and who then receives a daily homework grade of 100 – will receive an overall math grade of a 75 (a good solid ‘C) reflecting he understands the work – which he clearly does not!  How did I arrive at that passing grade?  Easy.  Fifty percent of a homework grade of one hundred is 50.  Fifty percent of a test grade of only fifty is 25.  Adding them together, you can easily see how the student quickly calculates the critical value of the daily assignment grades.

The greatest mistake a classroom teacher or a home school educator can make in establishing a grading system for a mathematics course is to put too much weight upon the daily grade as this does not reflect mastery of the material.  Teachers have little or no idea how students acquired the answers to the daily work unless they stand over the students as they do their work – which is not a recommended course of action.

The beauty of the Saxon math curriculum is the weekly tests which tell the parent or teacher how the student is progressing.  The daily work is nothing more than practice for that weekly test as the 20 test questions come from the 150 questions the student encounters in the previous five days of daily work.  However, unlike students using some textbooks which provide a “test review” section, the Saxon students have no idea which of the 150 problems will be on the upcoming test.  The Saxon students cannot memorize the concepts they encounter. They must understand them.

Oh yes, I almost forgot.  The syllabus went on to explain to the parents and students that “after every test, students will be given the opportunity to retake a similar test, after more practice, and be given full credit.”  A sure way to ensure students will pass the course - whether they understood the concepts or not.  Have you ever known any student to receive a lower grade on a re-take of the same test?  I say re-take because the Saxon classroom test booklet has an A and a B version of each test.  Both versions are identical in content except the numbers are changed resulting in different numerical answers.  The two versions were designed – not for re-takes – but for make-up tests to ensure the student taking the make-up test on Monday, did not receive the answers from another student who took the test on Friday.

John Saxon’s math books are the only math books on the market today (that I am aware of) that require a weekly test to determine how well the student is progressing.  That means that in a school year of about nine months, the student takes about 30 tests.  My youngest grandson was in his sophomore high school math class for over eight weeks before he took his first test. He passed it with a 94, but what if he had received a 60?  How do you review material covered in over two months of instruction?  In a Saxon math curriculum, if the teacher or parent never looked at the student’s homework - and the student never asked for help - the teacher or parent would know on a weekly basis how the student is progressing, allowing sufficient time for review and remediation if necessary.

The two scenarios I have discussed above are what I would define as the difference between “Memorizing” and “Mastering.”  Both reflect “knowledge”, but the mastery reflects what the student has placed in long term memory as opposed to what the student has memorized for the short term benefit of a good test grade.  In a Saxon curriculum, the mastery enables the student to effortlessly move from middle school math (the foundation for upper level math) to the challenges of upper level algebra, trigonometry and geometry, pre-calculus and calculus should they so desire.

Grades in the Saxon curriculum (after K – 3) are based upon test scores.  It is the test scores that determine mastery or acquisition of knowledge – not the daily assignment grades.


            May You Have a Blessed and Happy New Year!


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