Does math practice make a difference?

There is some talk lately about if homework really helps students. For math, the answer is clearly yes.

To figure this out, one year I looked at the number of minutes of math practice my fourth grade students were completing at Khan Academy, a math practice website. I compared that to a student’s math level. Here are some facts to consider, using data from one fourth grade marking period:

  • The average number of minutes the class worked for the entire marking period was 800 minutes. The lowest value was 400 minutes, and the highest was 1750 minutes. So the hardest workers were working 400% more than the lax workers.
  • The top 25% of the class was working an average of 1300 minutes with an average math level of 5.1.
  • The bottom 25% of the class was working an average of 471 minutes with an average math level of 3.5.
  • The middle 50% of the class was right where you would expect them to be, in the middle of minutes worked and math level.

Here’s the data in a table, sorted by the number of minutes worked:

By Minutes Worked Average Minutes
Bottom 25% 3.5 471
Middle 50% 4.4 700
Top 25% 5.1 1314
Class Average 4.3 796

It’s clear from above that the students that are spending the most time working are improving their math levels. The students practicing the least are below grade level.

Here’s the table sorted by math level:

By Math Level Average Minutes
Bottom 25% 3.0 543
Middle 50% 4.5 811
Top 25% 5.5 1021
Class Average 4.3 796

What this table clearly shows is that the students that need the most practice, the lowest level math students, were working the least in the class. However, the average minutes in this table are higher for the bottom and middle percentiles than in the table that was sorted by minutes worked. That shows that some of the lower level students were spending more time trying to improve their math levels. Over time, that practice will pay off.

Two takeaways:

  1. Practice time makes a difference. While not a guarantee, the more time your student spends practicing math (or reading or any other subject) the better their level will be. This is why a daily homework time is essential.
  2. Grades will follow minutes. If your student has a lower math level than you would like, nothing is likely to change until you find ways for them to practice more at home. It would be great if your student would take initiative and practice on their own. But if they are struggling, it is likely that they are not practicing. You’ll need to step in and help them organize your time if you want to see a change. Over time, more practice will make a difference.

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