I wanted to blog about my response to the removal of the written response part of the diploma exam. I was asked to speak on behalf of the math council on a panel to debate about the written part of the exam. I currently am the Math counil co-director and sit on the executive as "Director at Large". Below is the question and my response.
What is the value of the mathematics diploma exams for Alberta Students? ~In particular, what is the value of the written response section of the mathematics diploma exam?The primary purposes of student assessment are to facilitate students’ learning, identify certain strengths and weaknesses and to create a decision making process for a student’s progress. According to Alberta Education, the diploma has three main purposes, to certify the level of achievement, to ensure the province-wide standards are maintained and to report individual and group results. The values of assessment and the purposes of the diploma do not seem to coincide at all. Large scale assessment of groups of students is completed to “field test” new ideas, create accountability, and determine curriculum effectiveness. However, these inferences formed and reported are in reference to the performance of the group, not the individual student.
MCATA (Math council of the Alberta Teachers Association) is opposed to all standardized exams, when the exam is not appropriate to the educational needs of the student and when the results are misused. The math diploma has become a high stake exam for all students, as 50% of their mark comes from this test. Valuable classroom instructional time may be spent on teaching students on how to read and answer multiple-choice and numerical response questions. This time is intruding on the instructional process.
MCATA supports the new math curriculum because we believe it has benefits for students. These include “Greater opportunity for conceptual understanding” and “Course sequences are designed to prepare students for their future goals”. The first benefit allows students to go deeper in the ideas and concepts of mathematics and thus allow for intensive understanding of math. Communication is the key to determining if conceptual understanding and learning has taken place. Written response questions, therefore, play an enormous role when determining whether or not students have achieved the second benefit, and are prepared for their future goals. Written response questions allow for students to demonstrate critical and creative thinking to mathematical problems.