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Improve High School Math Grades: Tips for Parents and Students

Katy mentors and educates young professionals and helps those beginning their careers and financial journeys to make informed decisions.

Problems outside of class can make it hard for teens to focus

Problems outside of class can make it hard for teens to focus

Is Your Child Failing Math in High School?

High school math class can trip up any student. It's a real bummer when a bad math grade holds back their confidence and even GPA.

Even if math isn't your favorite subject you can succeed in high school math.

This article will identify what is holding back your student and show you how to help them past it.

Math Struggles Are Common

First, understand that high school math classes pose challenges for all students.

Starting with algebra and geometry textbooks become harder to understand. Once students get into pre-calculus and calculus homework takes longer and the courses move faster. The grading becomes more strict so if you miss mastering the fundamentals your later grades will always struggle.

Some students will overcome these challenges but others will struggle. If they miss a few concepts grades will begin to drop.

This can be damaging to a teenager's self-esteem and pretty soon they aren't trying at all because they think they can't do it. This cycle makes even just a few failing grades difficult to recover from.

Help Your Student Improve

When your child's poor math grades are brought to your attention, it brings a lot of stress on the family. You want your child to do well, but you might not know what is causing their math struggles or how you can help.

Realize that many students will hit bumps in the road during high school math. Take the time to figure out what is wrong, help your child gather resources available to them, and figure out a plan of action together.

High school math classes present new challenges for students.

High school math classes present new challenges for students.

Understand the Root Problem of a Bad Grade

Take time to identify the root problem for your child's poor math grades. This will allow you to help him or her correct it and keep the family from focusing on the wrong problem.

Start by considering these questions:

  • How has my child been performing in math class up until now?
  • Is my child outgoing enough to ask for help? Or is he shy and likely to want to fly under the radar if he doesn't understand something?
  • Is there something bigger going on in my child's life that could be damaging her math grade?

Past Math Class and Test Scores

The early high school math years when taking Algebra I and Algebra II are often the first real math challenge for bright students. This can be difficult for both parents and students to cope with. My kid usually does so well in math, this isn't like him!

Understand that there is a lot more that goes into passing high school math than pure math ability. All it takes is a few weeks of poor study habits, not diligently showing work in a problem, or getting distracted in class and a very smart student cal fall behind quickly.

Or maybe you know your student has struggled with math in the past and this is not a huge surprise. This is important to identify. Holes in knowledge can develop in middle school with basic concepts like fractions and negative numbers that make learning new concepts in high school difficult because they rely on the foundation built in previous years.

This will give you a good idea of the depth of assistance your child will need. Also, consider their relationship with math if you know they have a history of not "getting it" with the rest of the class.

Asking for Help

Next, take into account the student's ability to ask for help. Hopefully, they are developing skills in high school to use the resources available to them when they don't understand a concept taught by their teacher. This is an absolute necessity to perform well in college.

But if your child hasn't learned to take the initiative to fix holes in their knowledge, a poor math grade might be the first time this reluctance is manifesting. Admitting you need extra assistance can be hard for the first time, especially for a teenager who is used to being at the top of his or her class.

Outside Sources of Stress

And lastly, before diving in on helping them improve their grades consider elements of your student's life outside of the classroom. Is there something going on at home that adds stress? Are they overwhelmed with sports and other school activities and are dropping math homework as a result? Make sure you address any of these in addition to taking the necessary steps to improve the math grade.

Steps to Recover Math Grades and Understanding

Now that you have a good understanding of what your child needs help with and when you should intervene, let's discuss the best method for helping your student.

This all starts by creating an action plan. A key part of the action plan discussion is imparting to your child that it is their responsibility to see this through. Help them understand two very key points: a) they are completely capable of pulling their grade up and b) it is entirely their responsibility to do so.

Of course, you can give them guidance and support and find new solutions when others aren't working but make it clear that the real work will reside with them.

An example action plan might look like the following (notice it is written from the student's perspective, not the parent's):

  1. Complete missing and poor homework assignments for additional credit where allowed by the teacher
  2. Retake exams and quizzes for additional credit where allowed by the teacher
  3. Work with a private math tutor (found and hired by mom and dad) to help with the above and to keep up with new concepts
  4. Talk to your teacher about the plan and ask them for feedback/support

Your plan might look a little different based on the grading structure of the class and your daughter or son's individual needs.

Resources for Improving Grades in Math

Ask the Teacher

The parents, the student and the teacher all have a vested interest in the student doing well in math. Remember you are all on the same side and have the same goal. Having your son or daughter speak to their teacher and express the desire to improve their grade goes a long way.

Have them share your action plan from above with their teacher (either with or without you, depending on your child's independence level) and seek feedback. They likely have a few resources specific to their class they can recommend.

Private Tutoring

Private tutoring can come in a variety of forms. Consider how regularly your student could use a tutor and then evaluate the services available. A math tutor can be great if your student is really struggling or if they don't have a lot of time to learn math on their own. You can also checkout how to find a quality math tutor.

Math Textbooks and Workbooks

See if your local library has textbooks or additional workbooks. I'd suggest that you look into this even if you already plan on hiring a tutor. Additional practice outside of the session will help your student solidify the concepts they are learning with their tutor.

Online Math Resources

If your child is able to take the initiative, there are many online tutorials and notes that can fill in their gaps from class. A quick Google search on a concept will bring up videos and tutorials that fit any learning style.

There are many free resources for algebra and geometry at your child's high school, local library and online

There are many free resources for algebra and geometry at your child's high school, local library and online

Regaining Self Confidence After Failing Grades

There are very few times that you are judged so plainly as when you receive a grade back on a big test. Seeing a C or D on an exam (not to mention your parents having to get involved!) is hard to recover from.

Some confidence should return as they see their grades increase; it's objective evidence that their hard work is getting results. Appreciation from mom and dad never goes amiss either! Express that you are proud of your son or daughter and that you understand that a B in math for them took a lot more work than an A in the classes that come easily to them.

As your student moves on to more math and science classes emphasize that the strategies for seeking help are still there. Now that they have recovered once, they will be empowered to help themselves next time they struggle.

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