Help for a struggling studentI have a young relative (aged 14) who is now struggling in nearly all his academic subjects. He studies for tests, and even works with tutors, and he seems to know the...

Help for a struggling student

I have a young relative (aged 14) who is now struggling in nearly all his academic subjects. He studies for tests, and even works with tutors, and he seems to know the material before taking the tests. However, he almost always fails the tests themselves. He says that he is not having test anxiety, and in fact he says that when he finishes the tests he thinks he has done well on them. He will be seeing an educational psychologist next week, but, in the meantime, I wondered if anyone might have thoughts or suggestions to offer. He is a great kid. If anyone knows of any useful web sites that deal with situations such as this, I would appreciate hearing about them. Thanks!

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I had an experience with a very bright and very capable student who performed horribly on anything but essay tests. It was discovered that the student had mild dyslexia, vertigo, and seizures. Medical problems of these sorts can very well interfere with routine aspects of study and testing. In this instance, the dyslexia caused a reading "stammer" or "glitch" after every 5 or 6 words causing the student to repeatedly "stall" for several seconds while reading. This effected the ability to perform successfully on tests. In relation to its twin effect on study, the student's friends, who all went on to become valedictorians, could complete assignments in an hour or two while the student needed 4 hours for the same assignments. This indicates that time is definitely a component of success or failure when these sorts of medical problems interfere with smooth cognitive function. [This student did go on to earn a B.S. and M.A. from prestigious universities--so difficulty is not the end of the world, though it slows the world down a lot and makes roads a lot bumpier.]

wshoe eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have several questions.  Is he in the 9th grade?  Many students struggle when making the transition from middle school to high school, especially if they begin a block schedule for the first time.  Is he in honors courses?  Have you had a chance to take a look at any of the assessments?  Are they short answer tests or multiple choice tests?  Has anyone met with the teachers to ask for feedback? It sounds like he may have a learning disability, even if he has been identified as a gifted and talented student, that is associated with test taking.  Many students receive oral test administration accommodations.  Have any of the teachers discussed material with him or given opportunities for alternative assessments?  I know traditional teachers don't always like to incorporate some of those things, but sometimes we just have to do so.  Lots of things are running through my mind!  I am glad that he is seeing the psychologist next week.  I imagine he is getting pretty discouraged at this point. 

wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It might be helpful to look back over the tests with the student and try to identify the disconnect.  Look over the questions and ask why that student selected the answer they did and see if they can grasp why that wasn't the right answer.  Many students know the material but do not test well because they don't understand how to read and interpret the test.  It might be helpful for his tutor or teacher to review some of the tests he has failed and see what it is he isn't understanding.  It is entirely possible that there could be some learning disability behind his misinterpretation of the questions.  It is also possible that he simply hasn't been taught how to take this type of test.  There is a huge transition from Middle School to High School and that could be part of the issue.  I think it would be difficult to see what's really going on without going over the tests with him and seeing where the disconnect was between what he knew and what he put on the test.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with suggestions to explore alternative methods of assessment if his teachers will cooperate. Whether he needs a different type of tasks on written tests, whether he needs to be allowed to dictate answers for someone else to record, whether he needs to be allowed to provide strictly oral answers... Depending on what the psychologist and teachers and parents and counselors and whomever else becomes involved determines, it may be necessary to develop an IEP-type of structure that would require adaptations to support special needs that are identified.

"He says that when he finishes the tests he thinks he has done well on them." Has anyone had the opportunity, after he has finished a test, to have him orally go through the test and give verbal answers to all items immediately? This might help to confirm if he does, in fact, understand the material and for some reason isn't able to show that knowledge in the test format.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Does the student do poorly on all formats of tests, for example, multiple choice vs. essay?  Sometimes the key to identifying a students intellectual strengths and learning style as well as thought patterns comes from a more in depth analysis of their performance.  You mentioned he struggles in almost all subjects, so that suggests it is a testing issue rather than a knowledge one (though confidence in testing situations is key, and a lack of it may masquerade as a learning disability).  Encourage some teachers to give him unlimited time just to see if there is a qualitative difference to his performance.  Perhaps experiment with one oral test to see where the translation to traditional methods of assessment is breaking down.  Good luck.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I wonder if there might be some learning related challenges in your relative, perhaps something like dyslexia? My own eldest son is dyslexic and he finds it very hard to visually process reading and gets very frustrated, even though he is very intelligent. What confuses me however is the way in which your relative feels he does well in tests. I agree with other editors in perhaps exploring other, more creative assessment methods that do not rely on reading and writing. Perhaps verbal or even more creative ways such as drawing posters might be more benficial.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with post #3 (if he is a ninth grader). Outside of that, he may simply not be a good "test-taker." I have many students who know the material, but do miserable on their tests. When I ask them about the material, they can tell me everything that I want them to know. You may consider asking the teacher to give him oral tests (depending upon the teacher, this could be an option). Just a suggestion.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are so many trained professionals who can identify the meaning behind the issues of those who encounter scholastic difficulties. Perhaps, an educational psychologist could be of assistance. Even a student's friends may be of assistance because they are sometimes more cognizant of anomalies in behavior than any one else.