Does our daughter really need tutoring for a ‘B’ in math?

Your Life
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
June, 2016

My ex-husband was not satisfied with our 8th-grade daughter’s B in math, and wants to enroll her in a summer-school program for tutoring. This will chew up most mornings for 6 weeks, and my daughter is really upset, because she thinks it will ruin her summer. I tend to agree, but I don’t know how to handle this with him.

What do you think?

In his Prairie Home Companion radio broadcast, Garrison Keillor would invite listeners to follow the tale of Lake Wobegon where all women were strong and all men were good looking. Of course, their children were all above average! Your daughter’s B in math would allow her to be one of Lake Wobegon’s above- average children! In general, “A” grades represent exemplary/outstanding progress in a subject area. A student with a B is demonstrating proficient/above-average progress. All of us have gifts and talents in specific areas; we can’t be exemplary in every skill valued in our society. Nevertheless, there are changes that may help her excel at math.

What specific areas need improvement? Since your daughter is proficient overall, why not ask her math teacher if there are gaps in her knowledge that are stumbling blocks in reaching an exemplary level? Perhaps she was ill for a few days and needs to review specific concepts that she didn’t quite catch. For example, if she missed the days when students were constructing scatter plots, this might have an impact on how to interpret the linear correlations from these plots. Instead of six weeks of tutoring, in this case, it would be more effective to check out one of the online programs, such as the Khan Academy, search for 8th grade math, and then focus on this skill.

Would lifestyle changes improve her academic performance? Extensive study by sleep researchers shows that humans (and other mammals) have a shift in their circadian rhythms at the time of puberty; this shift continues until the early adult years. Changes in the endocrine system, including melatonin, occur at puberty. A significant change occurs in the sleep-wake cycle. A child who used to get sleepy at 8:30 now doesn’t start feeling sleepy until 10:30. The time that school begins, however, remains the same. Typically in the United States, as children get older their school start times are earlier; this is inconsistent with their physiological needs. You can’t change this internal clock, but you can make sure that her room doesn’t have electronic devices or other sources of light which exacerbate this problem. If she feels drowsy during math class, her learning will be affected.

Parental decisions are challenging for many couples, and divorce adds to the complexity. It may be that your ex-husband has noticed that your daughter is intrigued by science, and he is concerned that math will be an obstacle to her interests. Or he may have unrealistic expectations for a perfect GPA as she goes through high school. Whatever his motivation, the key concern is your daughter’s academic and personal well-being. His concerns and her needs can be met through avenues other than summer school. Be open to God’s voice as you pray: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” (Psalm 32:8)