As a mathematics teacher I've observed that students who exert the best effort perform best ["Where Some Give Credit, Others Say It's Not Due; Across the Nation, Teachers' Views Vary on Whether Struggling Students Deserve Points Simply for Trying," news story, June 14].

My letter grades reflect mastery of knowledge and skills. Yet like a basketball player who makes that clutch jump shot late in the game because he or she has shot 200 or 300 jump shots a day in the off-season, my students who've read the text, answered every question, gone back and practiced what they didn't master, and participated in instruction have performed best. My top students are the ones who've completed the most work promptly and who turn in assignments that are neat, sequenced and organized. Unfortunately, the inverse is true: The students who complete the least amount and fail to meet my requirements perform poorly. Rarely has one of my students done all of his or her work and earned a grade less than C.

In mathematics if you exert the effort consistently, eventually you "get it." Some students take longer than others and thus must sacrifice more, but this is true for all of us in anything that we try to master. These rare students may require extra help, but at least through their effort I can determine this.

The students who don't make the effort may have bigger challenges such as a disruptive home environment; processing or attention differences or deficits; or inconsistent or unclear instruction (i.e., lousy teachers).

Effort produces performance in mathematics. Students who exert the effort consistently as expected will master the knowledge and skills. Students who don't exert the effort communicate to us that they face other kinds of challenges that we must help them solve.


Inglewood, Calif.