How To Tell If Your Child Is Really Learning Math (Without Using Their Grades)

Math builds on itself. What you learn in one course, you will need and use in the next course, and so on. For that reason, it is essential that students actually learn the material in a math course. But how can you tell if they are truly learning it? And as you know, you can’t always use the grade they are making as an accurate gauge. Below are three steps you can use to analyze whether your child is really learning math.

Step #1Determine if your child has the correct learning habits for a skills-based course.

High school math is skills-based, much like learning a sport or an instrument. A math lesson must be approached with the realization that a skill must be learned that day. Many students approach a math lesson as just something to get done for that day. If you ask them “What skill did you learn today?” and they cannot answer, then they just “got through” the lesson without really learning what they needed. At the end of a math lesson, a student needs to be able to summarize what skill they learned.

Other proper learning habits for a skills-based course include:

- Constantly reminding yourself of previously learned material by looking back over notes and assignments (and not just before a test, but before each lesson). This should take 2-3 minutes at the most because even just a quick glance will help tremendously.

- Math must be done daily. As a skills-based subject, math cannot be skipped some days, and then packed into one or two days.

- A student needs to be willing to work the same math problem in a lesson multiple times until he or she can do it from start to finish without making mistakes, and then maybe even work it several times correctly. This is similar to a basketball player practicing the same shot repeatedly, or a pianist practicing the same part in a song over and over again.

So, analyze the learning approach your student has and make sure it lines up with learning a skills-based course.


Step #2Analyze their written work to see if it is logical.

Is your student’s work scattered or disorganized? High school math problems frequently require multiple steps. If you look at a math problem your child has worked, in most instances you should see several steps done to get to the final answer. If you can’t see any kind of logical order to their work, there is a good chance they aren’t learning the material, or at least they won’t remember the material. Begin to work with your child on some simple organization techniques, such as writing the title of the lesson at the top of the page, putting dates on the pages, and keeping them in a notebook in order.

Another simple technique to help a scattered child is to print off a sheet of paper with blank boxes on it for a student to use on an assignment. This will force the problems to be in a neat order on a page. This will not only help in learning the skill taught that day but will also help a student be able to look back at previous work and remind themselves of concepts already taught (because everyone forgets concepts previously taught and needs to be reminded). I have seen many students who struggle to learn math experience success once their work is organized enough to be useful to them.


Step #3Assess the curriculum your student is using to see if it looks well-organized and logical.

Here is where it is an advantage to not be a licensed math teacher. Look at their math lessons. Is it easy to glance and see what they are learning? Is the process for learning the daily lesson simple and straightforward? I am not talking about analyzing specific techniques the author teaches for factoring trinomials. I am talking about whether the process a student has for learning the lesson is fairly simple and involves the following elements:

- Are they getting a well-taught presentation of the skill for that day?

- Are they given a few clear examples that they can practice working with the teacher?

- Do they have a sensible assignment where they can practice the skill?

- Are they able to check their work and get immediate feedback?

If you as an adult cannot quickly see a logical setup in the curriculum, then there is a chance that your child is not learning the skills they need. It is vitally important for students to see the big picture of what they are learning and be able to summarize what skill they learned that day. If the curriculum is not clearly and logically set up, then it can be unnecessarily draining on students and can cause them to not even know what they are learning (or worse, lead them to develop some math anxiety). So, take a hard look at the curriculum and decide if it is well organized and logical for learning. If you are stuck in a poor curriculum, focus on improving the learning strategies mentioned earlier in this article, and then switch to a different curriculum for the next course.

If you feel like your child might not actually be learning math in the course they are taking, don’t worry. It can absolutely be fixed! It just needs to be done one step at a time. Do not try to course-correct instantly. Instead, grab hold of just one thing I mentioned in this article and see if you can fix that. When that is in place, grab hold of another item and fix that. Slowly you can start getting things on track.

Remember, you as the parent are the best educator for your child. You know your child, and even though you may not be a licensed math teacher, you are certainly an intelligent adult who can tell what sensible things need to be in place for learning to take place. Check out for more articles like this one for additional help as well. I’m always adding free material to help parents guide their child through the challenges of learning high school math. You can download my free Calculator Guide or Planning High School Math Guide here.

Have a wonderful day, and I’ll see you next time. Happy Teaching!

-David Denison


David is a full time homeschool dad of 5 daughters. He has been teaching math for over 20 years. He holds an undergraduate degree in math education, and a masters in Curriculum and Instruction. He taught public school for 11 years and has been teaching in the homeschool and private school world for the last 10 years. He writes his own math curriculum and runs a business “Denison Algebra.”


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