Monday, June 24, 2013

Assessment Disgrace

I'm frustrated and angry.

Just today I read a Mathematics 10 Provincial Exam Study Guide written by two Canadian educators (one from BC and the other from Alberta) published by a large, well known, publishing company.

In the section titled "To the Student", there is an explanation of and rationale for provincial exams.  It states:

Most provincial exams are designed to evaluate a students proficiency  in the curriculum at different levels.  In some jurisdictions, for example, a mark of 50% denotes competence, and mark above 80% is considered to indicate excellence.
It is expected that students will demonstrate different levels of competence.  In fact, most jurisdictions design exams so that: 
  • 20% of of students who write exam do not pass (score less than 50%)
  • 60% of students who write the exam score between 50% and 80%
  • only 20% of students who write the exam demonstrate excellence (score above 80%)
For this reason it is important for individual students to set personal goals and use this goal to help them decide which questions are within their ability.  For example, if you expect to score at the 70% level, then 30% of the questions on the exam or test are not written for you.

This is disgraceful.  

Where do I begin?  

So much for standards based grading.  The bell curve is alive and well.  Somehow engineering what success looks like is good for students, teachers and the discipline of mathematics 

Assessment for Learning? Forget it.  We use assessment to label students  - 20% of them as failures and 20% as winners.

The growth mindset?  What's the point - some students will forever "decide" their ability in Math.  Some of you will always be failures

I could go on - but I'm afraid I might write something I will regret.

And we wonder why so many students struggle with and "hate" Math.

I am not aware of the design standards for the Mathematics 10 exam in BC but I hope that the above design elements are NOT used here. 

IF these are the design standards for the Math 10 Exam  - please stop - our students and teacher deserve better.


  1. I have bad memories of my pride when a full class of students scored 82% average. Instead of being allowed to celebrate this both the department head and vice P. suggested this would make me unpopular. Up until I felt I had been part of an amazing ride (I was pulled into the school to replace someone with bad behaviour) that uncovered hidden talents and a strong desire to be inspired. The students had transformed themselves from poor attendance and non-completion of assignments to interest and enthusiasm. Sadly, I do not know how it turned out as my contract ended and while thanked was not invited to end of year celebrations/graduation. So much for validation of their hard work.

  2. Equally disgusted, Pal -- but the first thought that popped into my head was, "At least they were being honest with the kids."

    Here in the States, no one talks about the math behind the scores that students, teachers and schools receive. That's a dirty little secret kept behind closed doors. The result: The general public believes that schools, kids and teachers are failures -- not recognizing that formulas are tweaked and questions are included/eliminated all in the name of engineering the perfect curve.

    I think if people really understood what was going on behind the scenes in the testing industry, we could kill it dead.

    Hope you're well...