"My child is having continued difficulty with his schoolwork. We've tried things the teacher has suggested. Should I consider having him tested for special-education services?"
Schedule another meeting with the teacher with this specific question in mind. Review with the teacher any extra help your child is now receiving and other strategies that have been tried. Talk about the problems that still exist and what other approaches might be considered. If the conference does not produce any significant new directions to pursue, be prepared to request that your child receive further evaluation including consultation with the special-education teacher, the school nurse, a guidance counselor, and your child's pediatrician. You might also request that the principal and/or special-education teacher join you at this meeting to answer your questions and provide input.
At the end of the conference, make sure that a plan has been established and that you are clear about the next step. If testing or other evaluation or consultation meetings have been scheduled, tell your child about it and why it is being done. He should understand that the testing is designed to determine additional approaches to help make learning and schoolwork easier for him.
"Why does my child's school give standardized tests?"
In many school districts, children routinely undergo a battery of standardized tests, designed by university, state, or private educational services and scored by computer. They are intended to provide a measure of a child's achievement or skill level in certain subjects. In other districts the results may be used to place children in particular classes or programs, and to measure their need for extra services. Some schools report that the collective test scores are used only to examine the school's overall direction and needs and to evaluate teacher performance.
Opponents of these tests argue that they measure only certain components of a child's achievement and intelligence and neglect other important ingredients of success, such as creativity, motivation, and a practical approach to life.
You need to know what your child's scores are and how they are being used in his school. If he does not do well on these types of tests, and your school makes extensive use of their results, you should consider several options. If your child learns well, despite his test scores, you might have him tutored in taking tests. Also, ask that appropriate information be added to your child's file about his strengths and successes.
"Should my child be allowed to use a calculator?"
All children need to be able to perform the mechanics of math without a calculator. Once they have mastered these skills and can set up problems, then the use of a calculator may be appropriate—but only if the teacher approves. Talk with the teacher about it, and ask the reasons for his or her decision.
Bear in mind that whether or not children use calculators for school and homework, they need to learn how to use one. Also, it is always appropriate to play number games with the calculator. For example, you can compute a problem in your head while your child checks your answer on the calculator; switch roles for the next problem.
"Should I buy my child a computer?"
It is important that your child learn basic keyboard and computer skills. Many schools are training elementary-school students in computer skills, and have found that the youngsters have an aptitude for developing these skills. There are many computerized learning programs that students use at school to practice and review math and language art skills.
Even if having a home computer is an option for your family, there is no consensus among educators that it is essential. Here are some factors to consider:
- Does your child have a special learning problem that could be helped by working with a computer? For example, does he have a muscle or neurological problem that makes it difficult for him to write with a pencil and paper, and thus could a computer make it easier for him to do his homework and term papers?
- Do you have the time and money to find, buy, and teach your child educational programs?
- Will the computer be used almost exclusively for video games?
- Will it interfere with family time?
Parental time and interest, and not the availability of a computer, are the critical ingredients for learning at home. If you do have a computer in your home, you need to carefully monitor its use—supervision is a must. First, computers can absorb too much of your child's time, consuming time otherwise available for homework, play, and physical activity. Second, the Internet's chat rooms can be easily accessed by children, and some have violent or sexual content that is entirely inappropriate for school-age children.